The Tigers of the Oklahoma Pool Halls

by Tupelo Hassman

Imaginary Oklahoma is an ongoing project in which some of today’s most important and influential writers combine with artists to provide a fictional take on this place we call home. Through a wide variety of voices, styles, and literary devices, these works prove that “Oklahoma” is much more than a place, it’s an idea.

Referring to the past, “back in the day,” we moved through the jungle late at night.

The night is a jungle, usually habituated by tigers. Our undergarments were stained with fear of tigers, eyes of tigers in our drawers that blinked as we ran, far from each other, constellated as pool balls after a hard break, hips slammed to table, solids separate from stripes. We mistook each other for tigers. Eventually we had our undergarments off, completely naked, as is usually done in protest of tigers. We raised diamond yellow flags, and paraded through the jungle of baize, the stacks of quarters on the pool table shaking with each stomp of our feet as we protested the tigers that stalked us and the tigers we feared we’d become.

We walked late at night, from one jungle to the next; led by someone’s older brother who had given up his pants years before. We all thought we’d give up our pants soon enough. The diamond yellow pattern of fear attracts tigers, is mistaken for a strange tiger’s wink in the dark by territorial tiger eyes. In this way, patterns encroach upon and destroy themselves. In this way, tufts of fur and bits of elastic band scatter in the wind. We lost many friends on our way home from the pool hall. Some were eaten by tigers. Some turned into adults. In a state shaped like a gun you must choose between the barrel and the chamber. When you live inside a hatchet you are the handle or the blade.

Tupelo Hassman‘s first novel, girlchild, was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux and is being released in paperback this year by Picador. Her work has appeared in The Boston Globe, Harper’s Bazaar, The Independent, The Portland Review Literary Journal, sPARKLE & bLINK, We Still Like, ZYZZYVA, and by, and Invisible City Audio Tours, among others. More is forthcoming from The Arroyo Review Literary Journal, Girls on Fire: Stories of and for Teen Girls, and This Land. Tupelo was the first American ever to win London’s Literary Death Match and lives in San Francisco’s East Bay where she can be found, most days, having a root beer on tap at The Hog’s Apothecary