A History Of Chess by Mark J. 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.

Mark J. Mitchell
Mark J. Mitchell studied writing at UC Santa Cruz under Raymond Carver, George Hitchcock and Barbara Hull. His work has appeared in various periodicals over the last thirty five years, as well as the anthologies Good Poems, American Places, Hunger Enough, Retail Woes and Line Drives. It has also been nominated for both Pushcart Prizes and The Best of the Net. He is the author of two full-length collections, Lent 1999 (Leaf Garden Press) and Soren Kierkegaard Witnesses an Execution (Local Gems) as well as two chapbooks, Three Visitors (Negative Capability Press) and Artifacts and Relics, (Folded Word). His novel, Knight Prisoner, is available from Vagabondage Press and a new novel is forthcoming: The Magic War (Loose Leaves Publishing). He lives in San Francisco with his wife, the documentarian and filmmaker Joan Juster where he makes a living showing people pretty things in his city.
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