1944 | Yugoslavia

A Good Defense

Charles Simic plays a game of chess.

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.

©1999 by Charles Simic. Used with permission of George Braziller, Inc.


Charles Simic

“Prodigy.” Growing up in Belgrade in the 1930s and 1940s, the U.S. Poet Laureate of 2007 emigrated to Chicago in his late teens, attending college classes at night and working at the Sun-Times during the day. He said he started to write poetry to impress girls. He published his first collection, What the Grass Says, in 1967 and received a Pulitzer Prize for The World Doesn’t End in 1990.