The poem begins with an interruption, with the speaker
About to sit down when he is drawn to the pool room at the back of the pub. He tells us
I was magnetized by a remote phosphorescence which implies something otherworldly about the back room. Line three continues the spell-like mood as the speaker is
drawn, like a moth, telling us he is fragile and can do nothing to stop the inevitable. The atmosphere of the room is sinister: the personification in the
pool-table hummed to itself emphasises the silence, as you can hear this very faint sound. The fact that he finds the
whole place deserted conveys how others have left him to face this game alone.
The theme of death is apparent early on in the poem. In line five the poet admits he has
ten minutes to kill and he took himself on
for the hell of it. The words
hell set us up to consider the following lines with death in mind. Thus
slotting / a coin in the tongue recalls the payment made to Charon who takes the dead souls to the Underworld. We note the striplight in its
dusty green cowl and think of the hooded grim reaper. The striplight could represent how death suddenly readies itself to take its next victim as it is
batted awake having waited silently in the backroom for a long time. The pool table similarly gives an
intestinal rumble as if it is hungry for a new soul. All this happens with the speaker’s
back turned as if he is unaware of death’s plans.
Lines 11-12 describe the decrepit state of the pool table. The D is
parched and the cue ball
clacked on the slate as it was placed down, suggesting the felt has worn away leaving it
threadbare. These expressions tell us the table has been here a long time and has been well-used.
The speaker using the snooker term
I could screw back the globe describes the shot where a player hits the cue ball at a certain spot so that it recoils backwards after hitting a coloured ball. Metaphorically the poet is considering the possibility of altering fate, but it is implied that he is not, due to his mortality, in a position to do this. He has nowhere
to stand and take on death. Such a mystery cannot be explained by physics. Indeed, Paterson implies that for events we cannot comprehend we must use
miracles to fill in the gaps of our knowledge. The metaphor
a rash of small miracles also reminds us of the sudden scattering of the balls on the break and we wonder which ones will
survive and remain unpotted.
The concept of miracle is alluded to once more in the word
immaculate which has religious connotations, referring to another unexplained incident. The speaker clearly inhabits an otherworld that seems to have knowledge higher than his mortal sensibility allows him to possess.
However, Paterson still keeps the poem fixed in the ordinary with his pool-player’s jargon. The speaker gives the ball
a low punch with a wee dab of side as if he is a practiced player. At this point
the black/ did the vanishing trick suggesting its sudden disappearance which reminds us of death’s unpredictability. The white ball
stopped/ before gently rolling back as if nothing had happened. The clear contrast between the colours here suggests the division between life and death.
white ball could represent the living and how once a loved one is gone, we must get on with our lives. It could also imply how the living often choose to ignore the presence of death because we have no understanding of it or what happens after it. The final image of the ball
shouldering its way through the unpotted colours recalls a scene from a funeral as the family members move through the crowd of those still
untouched by death.