Strip Poker & Dybbuk by Jeff Friedman

Strip Poker

My lover shuffles the deck, fanning the cards into a bridge. The cards arc like a rainbow, then fly wildly through the air like fish hurling out of the water into the mouths of bottled-nosed dolphins that leap to catch them in their hungry mouths.

The cards land on the table as full houses or runs of clubs. I take off my shoes, my sox, my Sherriff’s badge while she leans in, giving me a peek at her breasts and her valley of cleavage, and a bead of sweat glistens in the shadow of the valley. I take off my shirt, my undershirt, all my chains and Jewish bling.

“What’s next,” she asks as a royal flush shines on the table. I take off my jeans, and she loosens her waves of thick brown hair, and removes the cream colored blouse over her yellow crop top.

“Just to make you feel better,” she says.

We live and dress in layers, I think, but now there’s not much between me and the world. “You’re a real hustler,” I say, a card shark.

“More of a magician,” she answers and waves her hands over the cards, “Presto,” as they open on the table, 4 aces. Now I remove my striped boxer knits. She rotates her index finger in circles, and I do several full turns.

“Now what,” I ask.

“Let’s keep going, she says and deals another hand, then another and another and another until off come the tattoos spreading across the floor: an orange crossbow, a wolf’s head, a Moorish façade, three neon snakes dancing, a fountain of coins, and the complete Dead Sea scrolls in microscopic print, and a map of the 80s. She turns over the cards until I discard my costume of flesh, my bones, my fountains of blood and step out of myself into air.

“One more hand?” she asks.


When the dybbuk knocked on the door, we at first didn’t answer. “Should we let him in,” my wife whispered. I shook my head.

“But he might be a good dybbuk,” she said.

“A dybbuk is a dybbuk,” I answered. But he pounded on the door so hard it began to crack. “Come in,” I said and shut the door.

Before I could ask him to put up the cash for a new door, it repaired itself, the cracks disappearing. He looked like an ordinary dybbuk, a sparse thatch of hair, a simpering grin, a yellow light in his eyes. “Don’t you recognize me,” he asked. We looked at each other and then back at him. “I’m your Uncle Morty.”

“I don’t have an Uncle Morty,” my wife replied. “I don’t either,” I added.

“You look like family,” he said and pulled out his cellphone, tapping on the GPS. “Oops, right street, wrong country.” Now he had a warm smile on his face. “I’m your aunt Esther’s brother.”

“Who’s got an aunt Esther?” we answered. “Small world,” he said. “It’ll come back to you.”

He sniffed the air, smelling the brisket and potatoes roasting. “The table’s set for three. You must have been waiting for me to arrive. When will dinner be ready? I need to freshen up.”

I held my arm out straight to stop him from going any farther, but he laughed and passed through me, vanishing. We heard cabinets slamming and the refrigerator opening and closing.

A moment later he stood at the table pouring three glasses of wine. “Where did you get that bottle of wine?” I asked.

He raised his glass: “Dybbuks should stick together.” Reluctantly, my wife and I touched our glasses and drank the wine.

Jeff Friedman has published six poetry collections, five with Carnegie Mellon University Press, including Pretenders (2014), Working in Flour (2011) and Black Threads (2008). His poems, mini stories and translations have appeared in American Poetry Review, Poetry, New England Review, The Antioch Review, Poetry International,, Hotel Amerika, Flash Fiction Funny, Plume, Agni Online, The New Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish Poets, Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Smokelong Quarterly, The Vestal Review, and The New Republic and numerous other literary magazines. Dzvinia Orlowsky’s and his translation of Memorials by Polish Poet Mieczslaw Jastrun was published by Lavender Ink/Dialogos in August 2014. Friedman and Orlowsky were awarded an NEA Literature Translation Fellowship for 2016.

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