February 22, 2013 by Reader's Connection
Jared Carter’s poem “The Madhouse” appears in his Walt Whitman Award-winning collection Work, For the Night Is Coming (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 1995) and is reprinted by the publisher’s permission.
I cannot give you the squeak
Of the blue chalk on the cue tip,
The sound of the break, or the movement
About the table, like a ritual of wine;
Then I was not born. My father,
Who saw it, was still in high school;
And there are others who remember
The poolroom on the avenue.
Here lounged the former heroes
Of the high school team, who took
The Tri-State Crown in ’24, and tied
With Massillon in ’25. Catholics all,
A backfield composed of Swede
Svendson at fullback, the Baxter brothers
At either half, and handsome Richard
O’Reilly at the quarter.
They had no peers, then or now.
On Saturdays regularly they stood,
Hats firmly on their heads, watching
The procession of hooded Klansmen
Coming up Anderson Street, heading
Toward the Main intersection. Always
The Klan demanded hats removed
Before the flag they carried,
Always the boys at the Madhouse refused,
And began unscrewing the weighted ends
Of their pool cues. People came to watch;
The police stood apart; the Klan
Never got past the Madhouse. That
Was years ago. They’re all dead now,
Swede and the Baxter boys, and
Handsome Richard O’Reilly,
Who married the banker’s daughter;
And the Klansmen too. Only the men
Who were boys then can still remember.
They talk about it, even now,
Sitting in Joe’s barbershop
Watching cars go by, or sipping a beer
In Condon’s tavern. It is a story
I heard when I was a boy. Lately
There’s been a doughnut shop
Where the Madhouse used to stand.
Mornings when I stop for coffee
I can almost hear it: the nine ball
Dropping in the corner pocket,
The twelve rolling to within an inch
Of the side: voices in the street
Echoing along the store fronts.