by Don Thompson
On this not unseemly secular paten, not gold
but tight-stitched bunchgrass smooth as glass
and graced with a skein
of abstract geese spiraling outward,
women only and almost frenetic
tossed pitch-filled walnut half shells—
eight dice inlaid with abalone pips
and polished slick by shaking
year after year in cupped, calloused hands.
A click-clack more like pig knuckles
on a Roman shield
than snake eyes against a brick wall
or mahjong racket—no less urgent,
but muffled and barely audible
above the shooter’s nonstop supplications.
The lake only ankle deep and cobblestoned
with clams, women
could wade almost out of sight,
scooping them up with their toes.
Hundreds of mollusks arrayed on edge,
cheek to cheek and rictus down
on a bed of dry reeds
with another layer spread above—
a pyre. And as it burned,
water seeping out steamed them:
Better than Boston succulence,
savored with a pinch of saltgrass salt.