Last Card. A poem by Cathal Quinn

Cards were in our blood.
Dabbling with clock patience, rummy, canasta,
But always back to all jacks –
Don’t forget to say “last card!”

Then the cousins from South Armagh
Taught us pontoon and seven card stud
For money!
On and on into the night…
The knaves left and the wildness drifted away.
We left it at that,
But aces became the tools of your trade.

Amstedam is the city
You called home for so many years –
From apartment
To barge
To street.
Working there,
Toking there,
Homeless there…
We met in a bar – you were too high on skunk
To be present.
We met on the street – you, former croupier,
Were conjuring
Card readings,
Selling the paper…
Years later the only way to contact you was via Z
– “Dad is sick, come when you can” –
You raced back,
You were ready to leave those streets.
Your legacy
A few photographs,
Your noble features captured in a bust.

You nursed Dad
He barely noticed you.
That stung.

Then you nursed Mum
For years!
Day after day
Of invisible work
While you painted,
Earned your belts,
Voted green,
Studied philosophy.
An organic vegan
Living the purest life.

Cards returned –
You who had been too good at cheat,
Who dazzled us with your professional shuffle,
Paid by the Casino
On Friday, bet all your wages
On blackjack,
Broke by Saturday,

Now dealing out
Memory games for Mum;
Your own
Homegrown occupational therapy…

Then suddenly
Very gradually
The stack collapsed:
Mum and you

At her funeral you were in a wheelchair.

You fought and fought!
The hospital chaplain called it a miracle
When nurses of all creeds
And none
Carried you down the steps
To the Chapel for your
Last mass.
The next day you made it home!
And – SNAP!
You were gone.
All too suddenly
All too soon.

Death’s dealing from our deck now.

Covid has postponed
The honouring
Of your last wishes…

Patience brother,
We have nothing but time.

With a last shuffle
Of your cards
You will bring your scattered siblings
Together again.

We will spread your ashes
In het Amsterdamse bos
To drift across your home from home.


Cathal Quinn is Artistic Director of Mouth on Fire and Guthanna Binne Síoraí Theatre Companies and Head of Voice at The Lir, TCD.

1 Comment

  1. Beautiful poem…

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