A History of Chess

Issue FourteenIssue Fourteen PoetryPoetry

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A HISTORY OF CHESS

Mark Mitchell

 

I am still a victim of chess…

—Marcel Duchamp

 

I was not born

under stone mountains 

in Egypt. The broken

pieces they found

belonged to another game.

 

Different ranges—where

the Ganges still rises—

were my womb. Silent

men in saffron robes

still desired to play at war.

 

Carved out of soapstone,

out of bone, out of jade—

Men found their shapes

and a woman found 

her hidden—but known—power.

 

Then downstream to cities—

West and east with real

armies. Masters were born, rose,

fell—in France, Russia, New

Orleans. Rules changed

affecting a perfect nothing, until

 

two old men balance

a sad board on their laps.

They steady pieces when the subway

jolts. They joke the ancient jokes

and are thirsty for tea, for whiskey—

always hungry for war.