Janice D. Soderling


The Ballad of Poker Pearl and Dapper Dan

Poker Pearl was a gambling girl
famed throughout the West.
When the stage still ran, there was scarce a man
whom she had not distressed.

Town after town turned upside down
when Pearl stepped off the coach.
There was Peek-eye Peck with a well-worn deck
squashed like a rambling roach.

There was Big Mouth Bill and Wiley Will
and many an innocent boy
who flocked to her table and left unable
to live with manly joy.

When Pearl sat down in her low-cut gown
with buttons, hooks and laces,
not a cowboy knew from where she drew
her most convenient aces.

Dapper Dan was a ladies’ man
and his stickpin was a pearl,
and his cufflinks gold, and his talking bold;
his cravat a sateen swirl.

When he heard of Pearl, he said, “That girl
and me will soon be meeting.”
His sweet gal Ida, he kissed goodbye to,
with “Darling, don’t be cheating.”

One stage drove east. One stage drove west.
They met in Santa Fe.
In Clyde’s saloon, next day at noon,
the two sat down to play

with five brash men who were broke by ten
and one who died from stress.
Left were Dapper Dan, the ladies’ man,
and Pearl in a red silk dress.

They were two of a kind with a single mind—
to win at any cost.
The only sound for miles around
was the clink of gold coins lost.

In the beginning, Dan was winning,
then luck turned cold and mean.
Within the hour, he’d lost his power.
Pearl nearly wiped him clean.

You can bet your horse that Pearl, of course,
had her eye on Dan’s pearl pin.
With a friendly smile and womanly guile,
she said, “Throw that thing in.”

Said and done. Again she won
though Danny had four queens.
Without a blush, a royal flush
Pearl laid on the velveteen.

The gathered crowd all gasped out loud
and Danny lost his cool,
for he had seen a diamond queen
that played him for a fool.

Now Pearl was cute, but could also shoot
as fast as Billy the Kid,
who she once knew, in seventy-two,
in Spain, in old Madrid.

So when Dan drew, Pearl did too.
True and grim each aim.
Like Cupid’s dart, right through the heart.
The end of their last game.

Side by side, in a grave dug wide,
lie Pearl and Dan, ill-starred.
And with them there, the townsfolk swear,
two decks—each with sixty-two cards.


Janice D. Soderling is a previous contributor to Light. She has recent and forthcoming work at Rattle, Mason’s Road, New Verse News, Stockholm Review, Measure, Evansville Review, Alabama Literary Quarterly, Think, Modern Poetry in Translation, and the Swedish language journal Aurora.