Words with Friends

Aug 3, 2018

Today’s poem is “Words with Friends” by Gibson Fay-LeBanc. His first collection of poems, Death of a Ventriloquist (UNT Press, 2012), won the Vassar Miller Prize and was featured by Poets & Writers as one of a dozen debut collections to watch. He completed a three-year term as the Poet Laureate of Portland in 2018. 

He says, “I wrote ‘Words with Friends’ after realizing I was playing an awful lot of this online Scrabble-like game, and maybe it was a way of avoiding relationships that needed my attention. I deleted the app and wrote the poem.” 

Words with Friends
by Gibson Fay-LaBlanc

So many calls I don’t have time to make:
to my brother, in conversation with cancer,
my father with his one road washed out—
guns and gold and preserves cocked and ready—
an old friend watching his parents die, and another
who can relive with me all those thousand
hours we spent in chain-link fields with mitts. 

Tonight instead of using my voice to place
a hand on shoulders, I move letters around
a screen for fun, for points, though I hate
that Qi on a triple is a better play
than newborn or sister and even brother
is always better than father or mother. Each word
flies through air to a person who might be

lounging in a flat down the block, in London,
or in an alley shack in Shanghai where
she’s pulling up my bank account right now,
draining me of everything while playing
seaside, scoring an extra fifty points
and sending me a smiley face emoticon
exclamation point. And even as it saves

the game, quey will never be a word
that saves me. Though Bird, fist, yes, stone, song
have brought me back. Eyes are the only screens
that matter and the words we share had better
be better than joint or hex on a double. I want
a game for words that land in the gut, that shiver
ribs, twitch lips, pop plugged ears, and all
I have is eleven points for this rule-filled
death-defying Wild-West contest right here. 

Poem copyright © Gibson Fay-LeBlanc.