Poker! by Zora Neale Hurston
Poker! is Hurston’s short play, published in 1931 and in the public domain. Entered here as a short story due to its brevity.
An illustration for the story Poker! by the author Zora Neale Hurston
Susan Rothenberg, Orange Poker, 20th century
Cast of characters–
A shabby front room in a shotgun house. A door covered by dingy portieres upstage C. Small panel window in side Wall L. Plain centre table with chairs drawn up about it. Gaudy calendars on wall. Battered piano against wall R. Kerosene lamp with reflector against wall on either side of room. At rise of curtain NUNKIE is at piano playing.... Others at table with small stacks of chips before each man. TUSH HAWG is seated at table so that he faces audience. He is expertly riffing the cards ... looks over his shoulder and speaks to NUNKIE.
Come on here, Nunkie–and take a hand! You’re holding up the
game. You been woofin’ round here about the poker you can play–
now do it!
Yeah, I plays poker. I plays the piano and Gawd knows I plays the
devil. I’m Uncle Bob with a wooden leg!
*[Handwritten: Last sentence crossed out in pencil in manuscript.]
Aw, you can be had! Come on and get in the game! My
britches is cryin’ for your money! Come on, don’t give
the healer no trouble!*[Handwritten: last sentence crossed out in
Soon as I play the deck I’m comin’ and take you alls money!
Don’ rush me.
Ace means the first time that I met you
Duece means there was nobody there but us two
Trey means the third party–Charlie was his name
Four spot means the fourth time you tried that same old game–
Five spot means five years you played me for a clown
Six spot means six feet of earth when the deal goes down
Now I’m holding the seven spot for each day of the week
Eight means eight hours that she Sheba-ed with your Sheik–
Nine spot means nine hours that I work hard every day–
Ten spot means tenth of every month I brought you home
The Jack is three-card Charlie who played me for a goat
The Queen, that’s my pretty Mama, also trying to cut my
The King stands for Sweet Papa Nunkie and he’s goin’ to
wear the crown,
So be careful you all ain’t broke when the deal goes down!
(He laughs–X’es to table, bringing
piano stool for seat)
Aw now, brother, two dollars for your seat before you try to
sit in this game.
(Laughs sheepishly–puts money
down–TUSH HAWG pushes stack of chips
toward him. Bus.)
I didn’t put it down because I knew you all goin’ to be puttin’ it
right back in my pocket.
Aw, Y’all go ahead and play.
(to TUSH HAWG)
(TUSH HAWG begins to deal for draw
poker. The game gets tense. SACK
DADDY is first man at TUSH’s left–he
throws back three cards and is dealt
My luck sure is rotten! My gal must be cheatin’ on me. I ain’t
had a pair since John Henry had a hammer!
(Drawing three new cards)
You might be fooling the rest with the cryin’ you’re doin’ but
I’m squattin’ for you! You’re cryin’ worse than cryin’ Emma!
(Studying his three new cards)
When yo’ cards gets lucky, oh Partner, you oughter be in a
[Handwritten: get you foot offa my chair etc]
(Enters through portieres–stands and
You all oughter be ashamed of yourself, gamblin’ and carryin’ on
Aw, this ain’t no harm, Aunt Dilsey! You go on back to bed
and git your night’s rest.
No harm! I know all about these no-harm sins! If you don’t
stop this card playin’, all of you all goin’ to die and go to Hell.
(Shakes warning finger–exits through
portieres–while she is talking the
men have been hiding cards out of
their hands and pulling aces out of
sleeves and vest pockets and
shoes–it is done quickly, one does
not see the other do it)
(Shoving a chip forward)
Raise you two!
I don’t like to strain with nobody but it’s goin’ to cost you
five. Come on, you shag-nags! This hand I got is enough to
pull a country man into town.
*[Handwritten: Last sentence crossed through in pencil.]
You all act like you’re spuddin’! Bet some money! Put your
money where your mouth is
*[Handwritten: els my fist where yo mouf is.]
Twenty-five dollars to keep my company! Dog-gone, I’m
spreadin’ my knots!
And I bet you a fat man I’ll take your money–I call you.
(Turns up his cards–he has four aces
(showing his cards)
Youse a liar! I ain’t dealt you no aces. Don’t try to carry the
Pam-Pam to me ’cause I’ll gently chain-gang for you!
Oh yeah! I ain’t goin’ to fit no jail for you and nobody else.
I’m to get me a green club and season it over your head.
Then I’ll give my case to Miss Bush and let Mother Green stand
my bond! I got deal them aces!
That’s a lie! Both of you is lyin’! Lyin’ like the cross-ties from New
York to Key West! How can you all hold aces when I got four?
Somebody is goin’ to West hell before midnight!
Don’t you woof at Tush Hawg. If you do I’m goin’ to bust hell
wide open with a man!
(Pulls out razor–Bus.)
My chop-axe tells me I got the only clean aces they is on this
table! Before I’ll leave you all rob me outa my money, I’m goin’
to die it off!
I promised the devil one man and I’m goin’ to give him five!
Don’t draw your bosom on me! God sent me a pistol and I’m
goin’ to send him a man!
(FIRES. Bus. for all)
(Enters after shooting bus. Stands.
Bus. drops to chair)
They wouldn’t lissen–
(Looks men over–Bus.)
It sure is goin’ to be a whole lot tougher in hell now!