My mother keeps a calm distance
as Auden plays chess with the Bishop,
Washington Square, 1948.
She does not know chess,
the intricate combinations of tradition.
She knows poems by heart,
watched breathlessly as Icarus tumbled
while the world was too busy to see.
Auden ponders the center eight,
the heart of every game,
seeking a strategy beyond the Paraclete.
His hands clench, unclench complexities,
craving a method of possibilities
to carve a triumph beyond all kingdoms.
My mother dances for Katherine Dunham,
rides a daily elevator with Brando,
who hides his face in War and Peace.
The Bishop’s moves are like whispers
down a secret hallway. And when his palm
graces a piece, it glides like a felt swan
over obsidian depths, and the trees
hold their breath in awe.
My mother turns cartwheels in Central Park,
whistles songs from the tops of skyscrapers,
and laughs out loud at the whoosh of trains.
Auden senses a strategy,
a weakness in the Bishop’s en Passant,
and seeking to exploit the imperfection,
elects a Queen’s Gambit,
a mere pawn
sacrificed for beauty.
My mother coaxes an apple down
plop! Into her palm,
circles the square,
talking with the old men
with mathematical forearms
who line like question marks
down the park benches.
The Bishop envisions a defense
implacable, infallible, hermetic.
The Marshall Plan is working,
and my mother lies in summer grass,
watching a cloud
fold into a dove
and capture the moon.