"Prodigy"

By Charles Simic
 

I grew up bent over   

a chessboard.

 

I loved the word endgame.

 

All my cousins looked worried.

 

It was a small house

near a Roman graveyard.   

Planes and tanks

shook its windowpanes.

 

A retired professor of astronomy   

taught me how to play.

 

That must have been in 1944.

 

In the set we were using,

the paint had almost chipped off   

the black pieces.

 

The white King was missing   

and had to be substituted for.

 

I’m told but do not believe   

that that summer I witnessed   

men hung from telephone poles.

 

I remember my mother   

blindfolding me a lot.

She had a way of tucking my head   

suddenly under her overcoat.

 

In chess, too, the professor told me,   

the masters play blindfolded,   

the great ones on several boards   

at the same time.