Sunday, June 6, 2010

Poem of the Week: "Prodigy," by Charles Simic

I'm currently reading Markus Zusak's young adult novel, The Book Thief, which is about childhood and growing up and books and Nazi Germany and World War Two, among other things. I'm only about a quarter of the way through, but I already like it a lot. Anyway, the book reminds me of a Charles Simic poem I read a few years ago. It's a poem about growing up in the middle of a war, and I've always liked how Simic refuses to allow the poem to come together as a whole. It's as broken and stumbling as the childhood it speaks about. I've always admired poems that take a form matching their subject. The first time I read this poem, I loved it, and I hope you all do too.

Side note: Last year, I was lucky enough to see Charles Simic do a reading in Indianapolis. He was very entertaining, and I highly recommend hearing him if you get a chance. Sadly, he didn't read this poem.

Prodigy, by Charles Simic

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.

1 comment:

  1. A great image, of a non-image. My son can play simultaneously on different boards while blindfolded. It wouldn't matter if I tried to shield his eyes from such sights; he can picture everything perfectly all the time. Any attack forming, he's anticipating it.