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  • Jørn Earl Otte

"Checkmate" -- April 5, National Poetry Month


Checkmate

Saturday evening, when I was ten years old,

marble chess board upon the kitchen table,

my father on one side of the board and I on the other.


We sat on food-stained cushioned brown chairs, ready to face each other again.

My father taught me how to play chess when I was seven, every Saturday

night for three years, we sat across from each other, we played.

Perhaps we had played two hundred games.


It was quiet, my mother and siblings sound asleep,

this time allotted to me a special, holy occasion.


My father was quiet and kind during chess, the smell of beer

on his breath wasn’t scary if the chess board were between us.

I had never beaten him.

He made the first move, his white pawn in front of the king moved out two spaces.

I reached for my king’s pawn, and our match began.

I have met three U.S. Presidents.

I have had beer with a Poet Laureate.

I have dined with a member of the Danish Royal family.

I swam in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. I have been to a nude beach.

I have parasailed with my mother over the Atlantic Ocean, hearing nothing but seagulls and crashing waves.

I have been a Best Man in five weddings.

I have watched my daughter dance ballet, tap, and jazz to a standing ovation

in front of hundreds of people.

I have seen my son score a hat-trick in five different soccer games.

I stood before the Mona Lisa. I stood before Starry Night.

I have kissed my wife at the Eiffel Tower in Las Vegas,

drank champagne with her at the real one.

I have buried the dead, held the newborn, watched as first breath

and final breath were taken deeply or let out softly.

But perhaps I have never been more awestruck

than the night when I was 10,

the moment I pushed my rook from D1 to D8

and announced, to my father, to the otherwise empty kitchen,

to my youth and all that lay ahead,

to God Almighty,


“Checkmate.”

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