John Slater

Homo Ludens

Two bucks an hour all night we shot
snooker in the over-bright upstairs hall
old Greek men hunched in the corner over
chessboards, television blasting
a soccer match. Some argued loudly about
politics, the next best move, back and forth or
all at once; others, perhaps their grandsons,
brought the soccer game off the screen
down into the hall, wrist-flicked the lines
of foosball defense-men, slid
plastic goalies across their slots.

No one else shot pool. We had the twenty-odd
tables to ourselves, played for cigarettes or
cans of pop, more past-time than competition.

But for the ancient Greeks
everything revolved around the agon: politics,
dialogue, Olympic games, it was all one
serenely desperate contest
where the gods might intervene,
police from an off-stage door,
sun through the dingy windows
not to resolve, but end, for the moment,
the night-long tragi-comedy. We

lacked status, were strangers
but understood at once
the object of the story, that
their play was basically a quest
for the depths of theoria
when the argument with loud-mouthed
sophists would become
the long walk home at dawn, with a friend,
vendors setting up their stalls, the usual
bustle of the day-break polis,
purest conversation.