Homage to Caissa
Returning after unproductive years
Into your maze of solitude and silence -
Tense as a canvas by De Chirico
And abstract as a line by Mallarmé -
Whose clear imperatives in turn rebuke
The opaque ambiguities, the sprawl
And braying muddle of the everyday,
Now is the time to pay you homage, fictive
Goddess of Chess, glimpsed only fitfully
Between the moving sculptures of the board.
Mother of branching variations, what words
Can praise you - you to whose infinitude
The count of drops in oceans, stars in heaven,
Or atoms in the cosmos we observe
Humbled can furnish no comparison -
You in whose bosom offered unconfined
The solitary finds relief, the sickly
A space of freedom - you whose avenues
Laid out in chequered black and white have given
The madman in the ditch of his obsession
A safer channel for his paranoia?
No wonder then that, gripped by your arcana,
Hierophants spend their lives in hope to play
A brilliancy while, sifting through the moves
In billions by the grace of logic gates,
Unfaltering computers still, bamboozled,
Drift into lost positions unforeseen.
Open the box and spill the harmless heroes.
Set them to play the game that reifies
As art our struggles and manoeuverings
Over the time we have against that sombre
Master whom I in age and in despair
See far too clearly now whose vicious pins
And forks in unexpected combinations
Mock as a fiction human calculation
And leave my pieces misplaced on their squares
As time at last runs down - twin clocks: on mine,
Just some years left; on his, eternity.
A king comes hobbling down the open files
And long diagonals. With every step
What’s possible collapses on itself,
The colours on his march like premonitions:
Black for disaster; white, oblivion.
And now it’s check. A move. Then check again.
The king is herded to the final square.
Another move. Check. Move. Check. Move. Checkmate.
If you have any thoughts on this poem, K.M. Payne would be pleased
to hear them.