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At Play
I

Too wide the eyes, the usual truth
of beauty and deformity.
Inhuman and unblinking,
though still black orb’d with youth.
Eyes somber and new.
Eyes of a long dead artist’s etching –
The child perceives some totality
that was born and dies within him.
Vast the vision, open and proud
as the last rose of autumn.
The world
as we agree to it
intersects rarely
with the kingdom of his creation.

He is his own
best invention –

and though I am Queen to his Pawn,
moving freely, but for
the protection
of a constrained King,
in Truth even at birth
he was already gone.

II

There is no myth between us
no distance and no intimacy.
We take strange turns, as
the one who entered this our world
regal, tall, never born,
and the one whose searing pain
transformed wild and wise ether
to beautiful form.
Ours is a rhythm violent and tender
and this is the way
of all Love
and other ancient games
of skill.

(When you emerged from my
exhausted groin you did not breathe
and then you did.
For three years I held you
hard to my swollen breast
until I realized your love
would forever be
far across a windy field
and this field had no end
and therefore no capture.

From birth you cared it seemed
only for the difficult
the strata of what could be
 dug up and in-to
layers upon layers of solitary play
 reveling in pale puzzles of palimpsest.

You spoke in tongues when you dreamed.)

III

Recently I watched you play.
But there is no play
in your play,
there is only a going in
further
further
a depth of exclusion so precise
to see it makes one lonely.
Where are you, Prince?

But there is no prince, no soft lines
that might allow for
the inheritance of
improved repetition.
In this game,
as with this child,
there is only
one chance, but
there is also no chance
only cunning,
only the going in
finding the untouchable
point of pure mind,
where gentle dreams are slayed
by some force impersonal,
sharp and cruel.

Pawn moves first,
then the ruthless knight.
Castle quickly,
move the stunted King
to Queenside
and do not neglect the busy power
of a conquering Bishop.
All good Bishops
cast sidelong glances,
and use their influence
in ways that seem to skitter
across the board.
I do not trust them;
it’s the sad Pawn I love,
and the straight talking Rook.

This is what the child sees
especially vivid
now that his White Queen lives
in solitude,
and devotion to his dark King
has become a matter
of severed life
and blooded death.

His mind is a sun,
heart buried in blacken’d ore;
he sees himself as Pawn
even as the grieving Queen
her hair and robes undone
for days, speaks of family lore
and paints a picture drawn
from battles hardwon:
“Beyond the hidden door
of War, Grace and Strategy,
there lives something more –
Love. Illuminating Love. My son,
You are with my mirror-eyes truly Seen.”

—  For A.M.
and for Nabokov, master of hearts and games

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