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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.

Prodigy

Charles Simic

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translated from the Ukrainian written by
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