• Vol. 01
  • Chapter 09
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Pobrecillo Tam

Only I do not like the fashion of your garments. You will say they are Persian attire, but let them be changed. – King Lear, III.vi.

raise yr game said my friend lucky
in love since going online
to learn moves that lead from geek
to playa. go to the big
baldwin city; life’s laid out like
yr sister’s tea set that time
she spilled the milk & didn’t
cry for a real melting knife.
chamoised my head & was going,
radiant as a hermit’s cave
in cappadocia; fled Him
& my other dogs & wall-
papered my sister’s braced smile
in carious photographs.
well caramel you can cross,
pass, shoot for the stars, scrape sky
for a living but don’t hang
yr washing from the window –
the old man doesn’t like it;
& see that tree? it translates
spring will bring again bread stone
scorpion to hand; always
afternoon if once you stand
in His light. i prayed for lift-off
& became a little horse
shadowed by an always car;

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And I was a kingly mover of signifiers, well-schooled in black & white; lay like an eye in fine-etched dreams, commissar of an aquarium universe. I sketched the frantic paths of peons over morning espressos, shooing away the gold-lit wafts of my breath’s tobacco and cancelling the bright white noise with violin whispers. Evenings, moon through the Velux, and alchemy. Cities lattice-woven seemed to glow brilliant through the typeface and promised eventual rest in their windows – deep plush beds with linen pages blank, where minds might exhale their spindly thoughts and sleep. I awoke in a Brooklyn apartment alone among piles of books – the guests long gone. I sank to my knees. I’d been clinging on to stones in a dewy world of groaning orchids. From sunsets wistful on the terrazza to breaking, crumpling prostrate below the cold colonnade, tearing my beard, imagining the sick smell of warm midnight loving in the backseat; choking for a single taste of tawdry rusting blood, a single draught of most noxious deathly life. I raised decrepit hands, match quivering to my gasping; the books would not burn.


I blink in the din of afternoon emptiness,
something invisible sneaking next to me;
holding its breath it breaks into the sanctum of my anxieties.
I put my hands on my ears, staring at pieces.

I stand up to get away from here,
moving a pawn on the board,
fumbling for a word within myself for this game,
a word away from itself; it has no name –
the word that is never spelt wrong,
has no other meaning for you and me.

Never a question of yes and no!
While we wind the game clock, never a need
to change our rules of grammatical relations.
Fallen pieces give birth to hope for themselves;
in a losing game on the board, after Checkmate,
a square remains for compassion.

Translation from Hindi : Gale Burns



The car rolls the last of the light over bonnet brim, collapsing away the day
in a series of dull trapeziums, neatly; briefly, I watch a shoulder’s shadow
fidget under the weight of that rare dart of sky folding, opening where
their heads should be, hands on the wheel, a fray of fingers pulling
apart those broad shapes, the last of the light, was that a wave?
perhaps - - and now I am certain - - a window winding down,
I lean to catch it before they take the corner, finger proud,
a hand, small arm, warm, bright fulgerite of arm arcs
into the air, searing soft and there! they! the sun
sets, jellied, belied, too late to wave back but
at my little table, the bones of it all in place,
good grief, I see it now, how to begin.


The Waiting

It was then I decided not to wait any longer.
It was then I decided I could not comply with the rules.
It was then that my sight sought forward and found
the sunset reflected on glass windows.
It was then that I let go, with a bit of me thrown in
for good measure - and as far as sacrifices go
this had to go and it was just a matter of when, not how.

It was then that I decided
that the game was over before it even began
It was then that I got up and left -

whoever walked by that table that day,
saw someone else waiting.


I Only Arrived

I only arrived from Mombasa
late last night and saw the city
raise her arms in lights, and
I hurried down the Champs
Elysses to meet you
in the Parc Monceau
and all the lamps said
she is there, lifting what we do
not know.

That’s the way the Rhodians do it

In the city of Rhodia, the inhabitants play games. Wherever you go, in the cafés, around town, you always land in the middle of a strategy. “My little pawn eats your little pawn”. “Yeah, but my other little pawn, devours your big pawn”. The Rodhians sip their coffee in the warm afternoon light, slowly, savouring the local delicacy: clafoutis à la grenade. A delicious pomegranate tart. “My little mouth eats your little clafoutis”. “Yeah, but my little mouth devours your exquisite pomegranate lips”.

In the city of Rhodia, the inhabitants play games. At every corner, a great conquest is at stake. Every move on the chessboard is a nuance. Every lost pawn is a revelation. Every intention, a new game.

In the city of Rhodia, there is only one game: chess. There is only one game of chess: seduction. There is only one game of seduction, and its secret lies in baking the best pudding, with fruit, with no other fruit than pomegranates. And if you are like that, that is, if you live in Rhodia and adore pomegranates, you know there is only one way to make a good pomegranate clafoutis. There is only one strategy: tenderness, kindness, gentleness. When a pawn breaks, the opponent mends it.

In the main square, there is a statue, a great marble creation. A Ukrainian man stands tall. At his feet, a name, and a quote. Theodosius Grygorovych Dobzhansky, who once said: “Nature's stern discipline enjoins mutual help at least as often as warfare. The fittest may also be the gentlest.”

Because in the only game of chess there has ever been in Rhodia, the inhabitants want to loose.


Playing the Game

It is the taking part that counts.
Forget winning, reaching the
line is what is important.
So they say.

Move pieces of your life
in some direction.
East, west home is best.

Jump over people at your peril.
Sidestep the issue and the past
will sabotage your plans.

Be kind to animals.

Take time, savour the moment.
Relish the unexpected juxtaposition,
the coming together of a dream.

The linking of ideas, the odd word
which illuminates the darkness.
Paraphrased in the Bible of best intentions,

If all else fails.
jump in a car and
tear into the future of the impossible.

It ain’t rocket science.
Life is a game of bluff.
Is that the truth – answers on a tablet.
The stone variety if you prefer.

Wing it but don’t leave your friends behind.


Meta Madness

A fizzy focus, sweet effervescence, rolling off the tip of my tongue,
Melts away in that meta madness, the dreams of what could or what would be
Untamed, fluid, arms stretched out,
A lifelong marriage of indulgence.

These molecular bonds for securing,
Binding to my eyes like a bandage
Swaddling me in its ring of softly sweat cotton
Comfort and Terror are bedfellows that court me
Leading me across
But I can see through this aperture.
The city feeds me with
Mixed arias of litter streams and twitter feeds
Fueling and being fueled
Across this checkerboard
Of beautiful entropy
All soothed by this
Of concepts, phrases, faces
Harmoniously orchestrated in
Oblique Obscurity,
Lulled into a deep sleep of
Meta madness.


Knight to King’s Bishop

Nay, your Grace, you should think yourself lucky,
zigzagging singlehanded out to the eighth rank like that.
You might have come back with a lot worse
than a bashed-in mazzard wrapped in bandage.
You can’t do that daredevil stuff at your age: we need
a plan of attack. Wait until the rooks have smashed
his ranks of pawns and taken half the damage,
and for God’s sake, forget the disputation you had
on the subject of transubstantiation, and work
in concert with your brother bishop: it’s the only way
to cover every quarter. Leave it to us knights
to do the prancing and the chivalric stuff: we’re good
at that, being the only bits of wood capable of
cutting corners. Sit tight. Concentrate. Six well-
considered moves, and it is mate. And oi you!
Golly! Watch out where you’re
going with that


“I have come back,” he said to Beatrice, “I am not under the table. I have come back victorious. The dog it was that died.” (Graham Greene, Our Man in Havana)

When I am in pieces I call this state daughter
say one day all this will be yours but remember
the eyeless head on fragile stalk mustering
in every close object.

Stalk, talk.

No that’s not shadow thrown but light
captured and blindfolded. So they say.
Any wooden abstraction arising there
is strategic move – you can be sure
the fat shot foreigner and poisoned pug
are fusibly linked around the corner.

Prized, pried.

Wooden car with button siren –
    don’t trust them.
Noah’s Ark with bite-size couples –
    don’t trust them.
Chickens waddling their own soundtrack –
    don’t trust them.
Glasses – don’t trust them.
Touch screen – so they say.

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Wrapped Up Tight

I’ll meet you on the corner of H and 3 she’d said, and I’d taken her at her word. Her coffee had been black, the ice cream, single split spilt chin dribble a white I couldn’t possibly comment on. My hands wringing, heat scarred, lined singed and oven branded, my ring wrapped finger a constant touch stone and worry bead. Service bell ringing I walked the checker board floor back to the depth dark griddle, next looking up to find her, gone.

I’ll meet you on the corner of H and 8 I’d said, and she had turned up late. My heart a sunless flutter of forgotten promises. Until. Until she turned the corner, my darkest thoughts flashed out in golden expectation, the elastoplaster of her kisses adhering to self-inflicted wounds.

I’ll meet you on the side by G and 4 she’d said, and two hours I’d waited by the cafe door. By then I’d known, worked it out late. The rook stole the show, air grasped from clutching tallons, reflexive.
There was nobody to see it happen.



your life is like an open book,
he said, running a careful eye
over my palm, examining a new
few lines that had appeared
since the last time.

you’ll have it all laid out for you,
clearly etched squares—confines
within which your life
will arrange itself, un-contoured,
in sane, straight lines

i dreamt then of a great big car
waiting outside a quaint café,
and i, looking at my designer watch
in exasperation at the trifle delay,
of being late to the next extravagance.

as i got in, i saw sunlight
filtering through the trees,
leaves, bright, young with hope
of all that was to be.
i dreamt and dreamt some more.

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Treachery! Penalty!
Did you see?
That piece just crushed Black Bishop’s head!
Battery! Villainy!
(Dang and blast, it’s fast –
must be a she.)

Hey Miss, it’s our turn now –
what the hell? You can’t make an L!
Where d’you go…?

A truce, my comrades, a truce –
this tyranny must be avenged!
Bishop, stand across and down.
Knight, wait at the bend.
Here she comes now. Don’t be rash…

head on! She’s gone,
taken by her own kind.
(And serves her right.)
Now then. Back to our fight…


After The Game The King And The Pawn Go Into The Same Box

He’d seen the man hovering on the periphery many times, muttering and plotting moves.

For a long time that was all he did. Watched and muttered. Never daring to come close or put himself forward for the challenge.

He was a chess player though. That much was obvious. The concentrated gaze, the wry smiles, the shakes of the head. He stood on the side lines but every game took hold inside of him, he was sure of it.

He’d seen it before, passers-by itching for a game, but too wary to approach.

He was too ragged. The glint in his eye too wild. The dirt under his fingernails too threatening.

Many times he was moved on. His presence unwanted among the shining precincts of finance and commerce.

They did not need to say to him “you do not belong here” he had long since understood the rules of the game.

But when he laid the chess board on the bench, set up the pieces and sat there waiting, the rules changed. Suddenly he was valid, ennobled by the authority of carved royalty.

On a sunny morning they sit across from one another, face to face at last.

He had approached quietly, nodded and took his place.

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Nancy and Victor sit opposite each other as the sun makes its way away from them in search of some darker place. The air iced with forget me knots, Victor's knuckles turning inwards towards his wrists flanked widley with bracelets deeply grooved to his skin.

It's time to begin.

The smooth sexy wood glides across his fingers but he still finds his grip. The first move is always the hardest. Cheap trick.
Nancy shifts. Her checked rug pulled against her knees knitted tightly to the chair where she sits every afternoon 'til 5. With him.

The game is played as always. Nancy still and smiling in her pod of silence, Victor moving his arthritic hands over the board like a crippled dragon fly dipping and cavorting, sacrificial pawns kicking up a fuss. Much ado about nothing.

Until 5pm, when it is too dark to stay and the darling boy from the cafe comes over, (as always), to release the brake on Nancy's chair and wheel her inside leaving the empty space behind her to deal with the sun and all its misgivings.



A freeze frame
celebrates the game-
hurtling chaos passes in time
outside this favourite abode.

Traffic, hotels, sun-drenched idly-
the same all over the world,
while old men sit
clicking moves, one by one-
closer to a checkmate.

All aboard the board,
tickets are cheap
for those that can afford them.

Now sit alone and drink in delight.


(Letter from Richard 1 to Saladin)

Red and black

It is time to bring this killing to an end.
Let us meet and draw up a peace treaty.
We can discuss the details over
a game of chess. I’ve heard your skills
on the board are as fine as those
you employ on the battlefield.
I think we are like-minded men,
both feared and respected in our lands.
Red or black, I will let you choose
I am always a fair man.

But you must know that in my chest
beats the heart of a lion.
I do not accept defeat and I will never
relinquish our holy city of Zion.
But perhaps we can share its rule in some way.

Come, let us now wash the streets
with rose water not blood.
What do you say?


Not Coming

Waiting at the café,
as the sun begins to fade.
Trawling through my memories
for all the plans we made.
Hoping you'll bring answers
as to why you never stayed,
and if you thought that single day
was worth the price we paid.

My coffee cools.
The cars rush past.
The game remains un-played.


I Promise

We would sit
At the side of
The street,
Chess pieces
At the ready,
On Tuesday

He was old
And I was young
And on the
Intersection of
Our realities
We would converse.

He would speak
Of a life well spent,
Of challenges he
Overcame and those
That overcame him.
Of love lost and found
And lost again.

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Now Let’s See if Honest Words Can Be

Let me see:
first thing that catches my eyes is
not what the city seems to demand;
it is the golden shadows flickering through small windowpanes
on a mundane concrete building.
No; it is
not the sweep-racing ford,
nor two elderly men dressed neat in check plaid shirts deep in a game of their whole lives laid out in the eight x eight board,
nor road signs written in unfamiliar English,
nor the Street Scene in some hollywood movie distantly remembered.
Have you ever felt the thrums of foreignness shooting through your stomach?
It is that
I see
(I feel)
in the pale sparkling yellow
bouncing off the buildings.



I don't know where this is
and I don't know chess.

I don't know any moves
or how we came to this.

I don't know what to do
with broken pieces

or how people ever get to speak
across the sexes.

I don't know whose move next
or why colour is excluded.

I know nothing about horses.
I don't know where

power lies.
I don't know where you are.

And anyway, who cares.



Metaphors, metaphors, metaphors,
that’s all you ever deal in.

You look at the board, you see us
as a carefully delineated series of

alliances, possibilities, probabilities,
waiting to be sifted, shifted, abjured.

All I see is me beating you again,
and you not ever trying again,

which is trying for me, again. Enough
of your King’s Indian defence and timid

obligations. The sky is here asking us
to embrace it, and I damn well can’t

see why you can’t grab me too, instead of
waiting for your impassive ghosts to save you.



my inferiority
defining every move
set behind
the powerful ones
in muted retinue
and yet
over time
I glide
silent in my resolve
my journey slow
as tiptoe tiptoe
my progress unnoticed
as Coronation sounds
I turn
with crooked smile
and now it is your turn
to bow



My fingers played the bandaged bishop while I waited for Ernie to take his move. It was a mutual decision some thirty years previously to abandon the distraction of the clock timing us.

As I waited patiently for my opponent to contemplate his next devastating move, I watched the sun’s last dance, throwing golden soft rays on leaded glass panels in the building across the street. It was Sophie’s building. Alone now, she lived on the fourth floor.

On occasion she made the short walk to the newspaper kiosk below, stopping to chat to Tom the vendor before making her way to the grocery store along the block. Ernie knew I watched her. He noticed me move my body to get a better vantage point, partially hiding behind the traffic sign while at the same time annoyed at its existence. He didn't need to comment.

She was as beautiful as the day I first kissed her. If I close my eyes, I can still visualise the freckle constellation on the bridge of her nose.

If I had opted to choose emotion over logical analysis, my life may well have been different. Pawns may have been of the breathing kind, not the wooden versions, increasingly prone to splintering.

I felt Ernie’s eyes on me. It was now my turn.


Before School

Your mother was supposed to come and pick you up today. School will be starting soon and you’ll need a new pair of shoes. I’ve tried to sew the tear in your uniform, but my eyesight is not what it used to be. I did it in the night, while you were asleep and I was still waiting for her. Three months and not a single sign. And today your first day of school.

I woke up at five and watched you sleeping. It almost broke my heart, the sweetness of your sleep. The uniform folded on a chair next to the bed, the mend clearly visible even in the scant light of dawn. My eyesight is not what it used to be, so I did what I could. I will not lie to you. We all have bruises and scars. We mend them as we can and then move on.

I’ve let out the hens from their coop and fed the cows. Your shoes were still muddy from the field, so I’ve cleaned them with some water and greased them with lard. And just before waking you up, I’ve made two sandwiches, one for the school, and one for you to eat on the way to the station.

I know. I was rather harsh with you in the morning, washing your face with cold water, brushing your hair with too much vigour, pulling your limbs this way and that as I was dressing you up. But you are too clever for me and I could not allow any questions.

That’s why it was late when I woke you up. That’s why I had to be rough and made you eat your breakfast while walking. In the train, I’ve chosen a crowded carriage because I knew you would be silent. And now we are here, on this bench, resting, the sun lighting the top of the buildings like candles in church.

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Oh life… what a game

You being a paranoid doesn't mean that you aren't being chased, in fact, somebody is chasing us all, like in a chess game, you'll never know when you're about to die.

Shame on us, wasting our time with shallow things, worrying, working 24/7, waking up a little bit older but not wiser each day. Oh life... what a game. Anytime, anywhere, anyhow. Feeling people's bodies passing next to you in the street. Pushing. The city is going to eat you. Every day, a little bit more. Your haunter is going to be closer and closer until you, alone, come into its jaws.

Then, when the time had come, you will end in a box like figures in a chess game. Oh life... what a game.


Play Me a Sad Game, Play Me My Life

Chess table out, not just for show. Intelligence out, not just for show. Saturday night at the club, breasts out not just for show.
Chloe's out watching the city glow playing games with her friend again and pawn moves and bishop moves and Louboutin on the toes and-

'I'm really just tired of all of this, you know?'
'Of Chess?'
'No, of this.'
'Of course you are, you bore easily, you float from place-'

Piece taken, interest gone, Queen exposed, suddenly remember that one time awakening to the sun coming in through different windows on a Sunday morning, you were at the King's house.

'It's just, where am I really going? I just feel like I'm getting played around by myself.'
'You need control in your life, without focus you just let life take you, you start to loose inter-'

Do you remember that time when you were six and you first learnt how to play chess, yes?
Do you remember how your older brother always beat you and how you now that you're on the front cover of Vogue you think you'll be a better person playing chess as fashion icon because you play in your brothers memory?

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The Adjudication

(Method to decide the result of an unfinished game)

Three years forward, six years back
My dark bishop treads on black
With bated breath, your every move,
Piece by piece, I am removed
Prophylaxis in consistency,
Is this nonchalance or ecstasy?
Tell me now, or I won’t wait
For the day I’m caught checkmate


Walk with a green man

Shall I change my position
to be seen ?

Doff my crown
gather up my regal skirts
and climb the castle turret.

Call on the bishop or
murder a few pawns.

Clearly standing still is not
the way to be seen.

A knight rolling into the gutter
would be recorded from
a moving car.

Shall I make the first move ?



The sun cracks the first yellowy yoke of the days’ warmth over the facade of the Hotel du Roi, where it drips over bricks and sticks to the windows. Stephane looks through the morning glaze and surveys the bare streets below. He tries to empty his mind of the night before. Become anew. But, that process won’t happen until much later, when normality has crept unknowingly back into his life in the shape of the banal. Months from now, newspaper filled waste-baskets and envelopes with bills and hunger cravings for fresh bread will disturb his melancholy, will bring him back to Present.

The sun lifts itself higher and winks cruelly at him through the glass, causing Stephane to squint. He crushes a mouthful of complimentary peanuts between his teeth. Washes them down with a beer from the mini bar. It’s the wrong type of breakfast for the night he’s just had.

Yesterday the boulevard had been busy with people; girls with poker straight hair and poker straight legs, beautiful men with skin the colour of cappuccinos and carefully constructed beards, jumpers worn over shoulders, strolling with languid footsteps, cigarette smoke curling like steam from between parted lips. The bars had been full, wine bottles tethered to tables in buckets of ice, animated voices vibrating through the summer air like cicadas.

Last night Stephane had joked to Loic that Parisians were like dragons. Fire breathing, easily agitated, defensive, with smoke forever emanating from flared nostrils. Loic had puffed smoke defiantly through his nose towards him. Had laughed, properly, for the first time in weeks.

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Knight and day

Charles strains his espresso through his teeth
It's enough to give one the creeps
Charles ponders the pieces beneath

His mind races
Left two paces
And then forward only one

Those castled kings
That Alice springs
have the deacon on the run

Pawns broke, bishops croak, rooks merely scream
The mathematician weeps
Whilst the reflecting Queen reigns supreme


Vive La Reine: Long Live the Queen

To my dear niece Clementine,

     Our trip to China has been postponed, for the moment Albert and I are stranded in Paris. The summer days are long and hazy, the streets tainted with the colour of treacle. I do love it here in July. Albert spends his time playing chess with Boris, an organic farmer who comes to visit his family in the Marais quarter every summer. Albert and Boris are to be found each morning at ten, on the terrace of the Café des Amis. They sit hunched over their game of chess, ignoring their steaming cups of espresso, until the liquid turns cold and bitter.

     I watch them from afar, sipping my petit crème. I read Le Monde and peruse the pages of Paris Match. The chess pieces slip and slide across the chequered board. The knight hopping, the castle commandeering, the poor little pawns the foot soldiers of the game, murdered on mass by the others.

     Boris is small and slight, a fair Celtic pixie from Brittany. He is a slow but steady player, watches the board like the lay of the land. Once he has made a move he sits back to admire; his hands are firm and sure with the stubby fingers of one used to picking cabbages.

     In comparison, Albert is like some elongated, nervous machine. As they play, he drums his long fingers, bites his lips and scratches his head repeatedly. (His grey mountain of hair, by the way, has grown far too long and could seriously do with a trim). He looks right and left, goes to move a piece, hesitates, thinks again and goes for another. He is both swift and chaotic, yet as finely tuned as the mechanical innards of a clock.

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I know what it is that compels me to go there. It's not the game; I don't even like chess and I certainly don't understand it. It's not the game that holds my interest, it's the location. "Where you off to?" my roommate asks. "Oh, no-where," I'd say, rushing out the door; couldn't afford to be late or I'd miss him. He passes my table every evening at 8pm and every night I'm there to see him. Dark, curly hair, bright eyes, dimples, and a killer smile; and it's that killer smile - capable of lighting up the street - that entices me back to that spot. He wears an expensive blue suit, designer shoes and a gold watch; and he carries a red folder in his right hand. "Are you going to make your move?" my opponent asked one time. "Sorry? What?" I asked in reply. "You've been staring at the board for over a quarter of an hour and haven't lifted a single piece." I was obviously miles away, waiting; it was nearly "that time" and I was expecting him. "Oh yeah," I said, looking down. But I immediately looked up again when I heard footsteps. Him. He came around the corner, passed my table, smiled in my direction and continued walking. "You're wasting your time with him," my opponent said. "You think so?" He nodded, very sure of himself. "We'll see." The next day I squeezed my feet into kitten heels, dug out a summer dress I rarely wear (except on special occasions) and pinned my hair up; grabbing my favourite denim jacket, I ran out the door. Just before 8pm I got up and stood close to the pavement, so I'd be right next to him when he passed. "Good evening; would you like to join us for a game?" I asked. He completely ignored me, didn't even acknowledge my presence. "It must be the dress," I said, after he'd gone. "I don't think it's the dress," my opponent debated. "So, it must be the shoes? Or the hair? Or the make-up? Tomorrow will be different."

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The driver sped away, eager to pursue rather more interesting diversions. I was consigned to the pavement, contemplating a mini sculpture scene, through a shop window.
Intrigue crept inside with me.

A sign by the table : 'Touch at your Leisure
    'Buy for your Pleasure'

The rules of the game are a mystery to me. Inconsequential. There are no opponents. No game player arrives. I gaze at the pageant before me. It is presented on a coffee tinted board dappled with light. The sculptures are held in a state of frozen alertness.
    Slowly I select the impressive black king, observing his contours and tiny grooves. My thumb caresses the polished sides. Reluctantly, he is gently replaced.
    Time slips away as each perfect specimen is inspected and admired. The die is cast- the decision made.
I turn to find the owner just behind me. Our eyes meet (an
over-used expression - though apt!)
    'For various inexplicable reasons I wish to buy the chess set, please. I have never played before.'
The Master of the Game replied with a winning smile,
    'The rules are included. Your opponent is optional!'


Fir trees do not grow here

South of the avenue,
between the intersections of cars,
shoppers with misshapen wills and 'green' paper bags
we walk
Past shops and cafes bulging with affluent sets of stilettos, cigarette butts and laughter.
We buried it- laughter, in holes our nails dug
beneath a fir tree, where we last kissed
your face pressed into the spaces of me, then vanished
and like a pimple, left a red round mark.

And like a pimple you appear again. We move now steadily, the sun casts its rays in the nooks and
the sidewalk's cracks
since fur trees do not grow in this city, I do not look upwards. The ground is my world:
coins, half shewn bubble gum and bottle caps narrate another story.
I am the suburbs of this seemingly eloquent city,
a place so much like you in heels and the high bun.

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Two worlds collide

Outside there is life
Vibrant and fast,
Bright sunlight beckons
Cars speed by in a hurry.
Inside all is still,
The clock ticks away the hours,
Slow and steady.
Focus is on the game
All other life is a blur.
The aim is to win.
Silence is screaming,
The tension mounts
Suddenly you realise all is in vain,
A car horn distracted you
Concentration lost,
Your opponant sneaked in,
Damn car braking the silence.
You are snapped back to reality
of the real world outside.
Two worlds once separate


Opening Gambit

The victim is hooded and bound: the screech of tyres
and squeal of brakes drown his screams
as the car, black with tinted windows,
turns the corner on two wheels.
White pawn to King 4
He who controls the centre…
Black pawn to King 4.
Two can play at that game…
White pawn to Queen 4.
Pawn (black) takes pawn (white)
Pawn (white) takes pawn (black)
Black Bishop to Knight 5.
Check…Breathing space.
White Knight to Bishop 3
So, the Moller attack…to take the pawn would expose the Queen…
Careful thought required.

Diplomacy and chess have much in common.
Chess is the world, combat its currency,
decoys and deflections its psychology.
The buildings opposite explode in light,
And, as ever, there will be an endgame to be played for.


“One More Game, Alright?”

Ronnie Sinclair and Mick Doyle looked down at the chessboard in worry. Trust their cunning old buzzard of a grandfather to still be good at chess at 87 years of age. “Flaming’ Nora!” Doyle exclaimed as Sinclair glared at his set of chess pieces as though their had done him some great personal wrong. Their wizened and wooden teeth wearing grandfather Don Doyle roared with laughter as Sinclair reset his side of the board as the afternoon sun dipped down glowing orange.

Glaring at his grandfather’s mirth-ridden face Sinclair growled “One more game, alright you old stoat?” Grinning like a madman Don nodded and said to the worried younger Doyle “5 euros I win Mick”. Mick eyed the now enraged Sinclair and shook his head. “Not a chance in Hell Grandpa, I want to be able to walk in the morning” he said quickly. Don merely grinned.


Bleeding Love

Do you ever think of what it would be like to extract your heart from your body and hold it in your hands,

all the while bloody, all the while beating?

[The way you make me feel]

I want to do all these things to you, and I want to do all these things with you.


I want us to play with each other.

Do you know what it means
for lovers to . . .


I've cut a finger.

Now, your move.



The pieces were as old as the two men playing them, if not older. The two men playing here had done so each Saturday evening for four decades, barring illness and adventures when their wives were alive. Four decades of shared silence, silently welcomed and always warmly admitted company to each other.
The board was the dried, curled, browned skin of some long dead animal. The colour of the squares that had long since been stamped into its surface had faded several shades towards grey. For four decades the men and the pieces had survived, three times the pieces had been damaged.
Once, when it had been taken by a rook, the white bishop had been dropped to bounce away onto the pavement. There, a grubby, soft-soled shoe had squashed down, snapping the middle in two.
Once, when packing up the pieces into the bag where they were kept during the week, the bag had split and the pieces bounced out. A black bishop snapped its head off as it landed on the hard kerb-stone.
Finally, a black knight vanished one Saturday. When setting out the board the piece could not be found. Nothing had been handed in at the bar by another patron. Both players searched pockets: deep, long and repeatedly. The pockets of the same jackets that had been worn each time they played. The area around the usual table they played at was searched. Rheumy old eyes even looking through the tangled weeds around the base of a nearby shrub. The usual bar staff shrugged and wondered not over the lost piece but showed absent willing to look as if they did care and helped limply for a short while in the search. Eventually the players sought a replacement piece from behind the bar and a small glass six sided dice took its position on the board. The die still holds that honour, always setting out in the left hand square of the black side.
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In the Plaza on the 16th July 2014

I will sit and read while my coffee cools to a body’s heat. The evening dance and cavort of the swifts is so fast their shadows fleeting stutters on the ground. I don’t play chess but find watching relaxing. The board’s symmetry, equally sized squares ordered in eight rows and columns.

Yesterday in Gaza more confetti warnings fell in the streets settled on walls,
and flat roofed buildings. How quickly can anyone move in such a densely populated place? Palestinians have the status of heritable refugee, a legacy
of conflicts and colonial map makers.

I listen to the news and register protest in the usual ways. Today at a beach
four brothers were killed by rockets. Wild tactics or known opening theory
of protagonists. Someone will investigate and make a report. Who else
can understand geo-politics like an analyst?

Chest boards are territorial arenas of two colours most commonly light
and dark. Modern rules took form in the Middle Ages and are continuity
modified by administrations for their own purposes. Chess pieces also
have their own ways of moving in the game.


Thinking About Fred Astaire

He comes here every Wednesday to play me. He wears a green suit and brown suede shoes and a rusty tie pin with a fox on it. Cloudy hair, tufts of white scattered across his chin. Skinny hands. I beat this guy every time and he still comes back. People rarely play me more than once. I win and they leave.

He sits down and nods at me and we start. His move.

I saw this program once where you’re supposed to ask people simple questions like what they’re most afraid of or what the best moment of their life was and that way you sorta break down barriers and get to know them. I don’t talk to other players. Sometimes they try, mostly the tourists. They ask me why I do what I do and am I here all the time. I tell them mostly, yeah.

I nearly have him in a corner. His tie-pin catches the sun and I think maybe he’s trying to put me off, so I move my chair and he pauses mid-move and looks up. "What are you doing?"

I shake my head and he hesitates, then moves his King backwards. He is bad today. I steal two pawns. His moves are slow, concentrated. His hands wear panic. Mine are sharp, fluent. I wonder if he is a business man.

Then because I have nothing to lose, I say, "What was the saddest moment in your life?"

He blinks and for a moment I think he has nothing to say, that he is very happy and rich and has a wife and two kids and a dog. "Finding nothing in the fridge after my wife’s funeral." He looks up at me, back down again. "It was lunch and we had nothing to eat. I had never gone shopping for her."

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lila beth

lila beth
beautiful but
wasted on games
and on absinthe
her hair fried
too many years and too many shades
of marigold of indigo of hot pink that popped
against any background, friend or flame
she counted cards she counted stars with wonder
and easy so easy to underestimate her. never easy to love her.

Now you see it now you don’t

I walked past at first, that's when it hit me that was just the colour I needed for the bedroom décor. I walk back saying to myself do you think they would miss a piece? they must have spares somewhere. Now I am convinced I have to have a piece, I lift the smallest one first, feeling the warmth of the wood looking closely realising it would be far to hard to match up with such a small specimen so I put it down. The next one was a bit bigger that was a bit more like it, but of course if I had more than one piece I could put a piece in every bag I have so I could match it no matter what I was wearing or what bag I had with me. With one fell swoop they are all in my bag, chuckling as I run the road. I am late for my appointment I know I will have to confess but as they say once a kleptomaniac always a kleptomaniac.

MH17: In Memorial

The picture: the smile, white teeth, thumbs up,
Smartphone messages of everything's all right.
Seeing loved ones, new places, of sealing deals,
The Captain's voice and the crew's
Stemming flutters in your heart.

Two rebels at play:
Your move, my move
Pawn, Knight, Bishop.
Your move, my move
Queen, Rook, Check.

Tail wind pushes metal fast above the clouds,
Films watched, games played, babies fed, babies settled,
Children cry, are we there yet?
Tea, coffee, then drowsing into Neverland,
Stuttered REM and Through the Looking Glass dreams.

Two rebels at play:
Your move, my move
King, knight, Pawn.
Your move, my move
Bishop, Rook, Check.

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Eight seconds after the flash a bird leans down,
taking it upon himself to bear witness like some kind of professional witness-bearer
I’m finishing my tea and I smell you on my fingers -- are you going to be pissed that I’m still bleeding?
The prison across the street has been melting for a hundred years. One day it will just be a puddle of wax. We’re going to roll around in it -- get absolutely covered, even our eyeballs --
and then where will we be? (Madame Tussaud’s, of course)
It’s a trick, the way the light or the air (either way, particles), is like this. Hazy and warm and quiet, like the happiest nothingness: goldenrod = stillness, or some such, but what it is is flux: counting the cash in the drawer, changing the linens for the dinner shift, buying the flowers yourself, the whole howling lot of paraffin prisoners rattling towards their bunks
When this bird, whose foot is stuck in wet concrete, either frees himself or doesn’t, and when the moon rises or doesn’t, it’ll be a different light, different particles,
and time will tighten again, like a sphincter


- We haven't booked a hotel.
- No.
- I saw one near the train station, we could go and ask there.
- Yes, that's fine.

- We got here, though.
- Yes, which seems odd now.
- Odd?
- Yes. How often do people actually just leave?
- Not often.
- I didn't cancel my newspaper subscription.
- Neither did I.
- How much was the coffee?
- I don't know.
- It's just I don't have much currency.
- We can pay with a card.
- Do they do that here?
- Yes of course, it's still Europe for god's sake.
- Yes sorry.
- It's fine.

- Do you know how to play chess?
- Of course.
- No, I mean do you actually know how to play it?
- I'm not sure. Do you?
- No. I know the rules, but I never had any idea what to do with them.
- Do you want to learn?
- I'd like to, yes, at some point.
- Well, we have time.
- Yes, we have time.
- There'll be a lot of newspapers. What if my door gets stuck on them?
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“It’s okay, it’s fine.”
      It couldn't be any further from the truth, and it’s now patently obvious, sinking in, but more than that, gnawing down even, corroding. You can’t shake this off. The guilt.
      “I’m alright, I promise.”
      The shrug off, the shrinking away, the rejection. Two moves on the first turn.
      “I'm sorry… I'm so sorry…”
      It’s the best you can muster, the phrase sounds jarring, pathetic, empty. The routes are manifold, a mist, let them solidify.
      “I don’t understand. I don't get it...”
      Broken off, tentative. To draw you in? Clichés line up to face the firing squad. Avoid the obvious moves, you know what will follow. Choose carefully.
“Let’s sit down here, let’s talk about it. I know you don't want to, I know, I know.”
You hold her reluctant body against you, she resists, but caves, because you're her mother, you'll always be her mother. Maybe she'll cry. You’ve learnt to fight the feeling at the back of your throat, that rises behind your nose to the back of your eyes. You push it down.
“Why? Just why? Does Seb know? Have you told him?”
Almost breathless, nasal, she presses at her face as if she could physically squeeze the thoughts from her head, wring out her brain. The board is cluttered now.
You can see how it plays, the counter, the response.

Tell her?

“Why couldn't you tell me? Why did this have to happen? I go back for exams next week…”

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The Game and the City

The map of the city is a grid of desire. The crowds, a blur of motion. They meet at the cafe in the afternoon, thirsty eyes
drinking in the scenery. Gold light suffuses the interior.
Some of these games go way back.
The chessboards are laid out in black and white. The pieces have their rules. Who plays the pawn, the queen? Who is the
master of the knight's moves?
Enter the stranger in charcoal gray. He is an elegant older gentleman. "Do you want to play?" he says. He has brought his own pieces, his own rules. One by one, he lays them out. His
hands are graceful, with long tapering fingers.

"These are the Allies. Keep them close.
These are the Resources. They will come in handy later.
Here are the Inspirations. They can move wherever they want.
These are the Sanctuaries. They will protect you.
And these, these are the Pleasures. They have no rules. Be careful how you use them."

He smiles. His eyes are an indeterminate color. The color of
evening, before the streetlights come on.


Amsterdam (a true story)

I do not remember it now.
Not as it was.
Only as it might have been.
The room in which the game was played.
We sat on barrels.
Upturned and lower than was comfortable.
The game was already set.
Each piece in place.
You had moved me again.
Into the darkness.
I hadn't understood the first time it happened.
But now I knew what this meant.
It was just in case.
In case anyone saw me.
Your piece.
In partial shadow, you left me alone.
Went to the bar.
Ordered the usual.
Two beers.
Money exchanged.
You returned.
Straddled the barrel.
I was white. It was my turn first.
You urged me to get on with it.
Your eyes.
I could never read what was behind them.
Never understood what triggered it.
Surely it was safe now?
To play a game?
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Dueling With Dad

'It is a war son, stop
taking everything so lightly.'

The dementia spews mist that runs
interference with his vision, but he
does not miss the pieces, poised …
he blinks - in focus, he sees a battle
but life is blurred; he blinks –
in the foreground he sees warriors,
in the background, hope.

He is from another time - he believes
that what we celebrate speaks our religion -
if we play with a knife, we get cut,
if we play with acid, we get burned,
if we play with soldiers, we start a war.

He points to the pieces …
'rook, knight, bruised bishop,
queen, decrowned king;
boy, girl, wounded uncle,
mother, dead father.' He is worried
about what is hidden, beyond the board,
what is clear to him but blurred to us,
until we awake, and lose our hating.

'It is just a game dad, stop
taking everything so seriously.'