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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, November 20, 2015.
About this Poem 

“I’ve always adored the marvelous and dramatic terminology of the game of chess. And I suppose some of that daydream-y distractedness was what kept me from ever fully understanding how exactly to play the game most of my life. What first started as a meditation on the game itself surprised me into a poem to celebrate ten years of marriage to the man who taught me (and continues to teach) with endless patience.”
Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Chess

Exactly four different men have tried
to teach me how to play. I could never
tell the difference between a rook
or bishop, but I knew the horse meant

knight. And that made sense to me,
because a horse is night: soot-hoof
and nostril, dark as a sabled evening
with no stars, bats, or moon blooms.

It’s a night in Ohio where a man sleeps
alone one week and the next, the woman
he will eventually marry leans her body
into his for the first time, leans a kind

of faith, too—filled with white crickets
and bouquets of wild carrot. And
the months and the honeyed years
after that will make all the light

and dark squares feel like tiles
for a kitchen they can one day build
together. Every turn, every sacrificial
move—all the decoys, the castling,

the deflections—these will be both
riotous and unruly, the exact opposite
of what she thought she ever wanted
in the endgame of her days.
 

Copyright © 2015 by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 20, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2015 by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 20, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the author of four poetry collections: Oceanic (Copper Canyon Press, 2018), Lucky Fish (Tupelo Press, 2011), winner of the 2011 Eric Hoffer Grand Prize; At the Drive-In Volcano (Tupelo Press, 2007), winner of the Balcones Poetry Prize; and Miracle Fruit (Tupelo Press, 2003), winner of the Global Filipino Award and the Tupelo Press Prize.

by this poet

poem

When you ask me to split a dessert with you, I wince
because I don’t like to share my restaurant food

and there is the matter of who pays for what.
If I don’t order a drink and just have a salad,

always the person in the group who gobbled steak,
a glass of wine, and two appetizers says,

poem

I’ve become the person who says Darling, who says Sugarpie,
Honeybunch, Snugglebear—and that’s just for my children.
What I call my husband is unprintable. You’re welcome. I am
his sweetheart, and finally, finally—I answer to his call and his
alone. Animals are named for

poem

I have faith in the single glossy capsule of a butterfly egg.
I have faith in the way a wasp nest is never quiet

and never wants to be. I have faith that the pile of forty
painted turtles balanced on top of each other will not fall

as the whole messy mass makes a scrabble-run