A Game of Cards by Phoenix

A game of cards— 
eyes on the table sneaking past
the watchful discreetness
of each hand holding on
tight to those hidden cards—
dealt, stolen, forged…
Inside it felt as if
something was wrong,
but I kept on
playing anyway.

All the numbers
do not matter;
a great hand is full
of jacks and kings and queens;
aces like veterans clean
and secure the win—
kill all the numbers,
leave some to serve the later king;
undermine the aces,
sacrifice the jacks,
stab the king in the back,
and hijack the queen—
the royal bed is yours,
today, yet
tomorrow it may be not—
you are now king—

new players lining up
all the way filling the ring
numbers you left behind;
unappreciated aces who have their eyes,
too, on the queen;
unworthy cards will one day grow—
Glorious Rome was never short
of a cunning Caesar or a Brutus, cowardly
with eyes seeking only vengeance—
a bout is over; another soon begins.

Phoenix’s poem “A Game of Cards” invites us into a world where the simple act of playing cards becomes a potent metaphor for the complexities of power, ambition, and the ever-present threat of betrayal. Using vivid imagery and a distinct structure, the poem paints a thought-provoking picture of the relentless struggle for dominance.

The Stakes Are High

From the opening lines, “A Game of Cards” establishes an atmosphere of tension and secrecy. Eyes are described as “sneaking past the watchful discreetness”, suggesting a sense of hidden motives and a need for subterfuge. Players hold their cards “tight”, symbolizing their guarded strategies and the importance of maintaining control.

The poem introduces an unsettling feeling within the speaker, hinting at an awareness of wrongdoing, of something fundamentally corrupt within the game. This internal conflict adds a layer of complexity—despite recognizing the potential for deceit, the speaker confesses, “but I kept on playing anyway.”

The Rules of Power

The second stanza delves deeper into the rules of this metaphorical card game, revealing a ruthless hierarchy. We learn that numbers hold little value; true dominance lies in the court cards – jacks, kings, and queens. Aces, although powerful, are seen as expendable, while the queen holds the highest strategic value.

The poet emphasizes the tactics of manipulation and betrayal. Kings are “stab[bed] in the back”, loyalty is sacrificed, and ambition demands constant vigilance even from those closest. This ruthlessness paints a bleak picture of unchecked ambition, suggesting that those in power must constantly scheme to maintain their position.

The Eternal Cycle

The final stanza introduces a cyclical element to the poem. As one bout ends, another begins. New players line up, including those who were previously overlooked and undervalued. Phoenix subtly evokes images of Roman history, with the mention of Caesar and the treacherous Brutus. This historical reference underlines a key theme of the poem: even the most secure power structures are vulnerable to ambition and the hunger for change.


Phoenix’s “A Game of Cards” is a powerful and thought-provoking exploration of human ambition. Using the familiar context of a card game, the poem reveals the darker undercurrents of power struggles, betrayal, and the relentless cycle of new contenders vying for control. The poem invites us to question our own desires for dominance and to consider the potential consequences when ambition goes unchecked.

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