A Poem for Chessmen at a Congress

Carol Rumens

Shah maat – the King is dead

It’s like an examination
– or some vast dinner party
where the guests sit in pairs
and politely demolish each other.
Your ranks of hunted shoulders
and frowns attest the passion
of the quest. For you are unravelling
a childhood, inching back.
You cross the polite, hushed street
– its pawn cars in a line,
its mitred evergreens –
and softly click the latches
to the room where the grown-ups stand
as if they’d guessed you’d visit
with death in your childish hand.
It’s never enough, is it?
However well you win,
however bold your cry
of ‘Checkmate, Shah maat!’
King Dad will rise again,
his crown unspilled, his lady
hard-faced at his side.
You mustn’t think I’m gloating,
now shiver when you hear
the whispering of my skirts
along the aisles where those
dumb beasts, the backs of your heads,
graze in their sensual doze.
I’m miles from the queening square.
Although no doubt in time,
we will change places,
for now you needn’t run.
My history is not yours.
Long ago, I set up my pieces
against my father, as you did,
but it was only for fun.
Pretty face, I was free to lose.