Chessmen, Teasel


Poetry by John Greening

 

Chessmen

 

for Gerður Kristný

 

And not a Fischer or Spassky among them –

delightful, light-hearted, cartoonish, clean-cut

 

fruit of the walrus or the whale, whose final

unanswerable move at time’s hand was to

 

checkmate on a beach in the Isle of Lewis

when England (of course) claimed eighty-two pieces,

 

leaving Scotland just this eleven. The knight

on his oss oss wee oss like a prop from a

 

scandi panto; the bishop boggle-eyed at

a sheela na gig or green men in his choir;

 

a warder rook, shield against chin, still afraid

vikings might raze the board; and then the kings, who

 

are taking it one step at a time, sceptres

decommissioned, but scowls active, two of them,

 

who’d guessed that after seven hundred years they

might well be rescued, only to be chosen

 

for the B-team… And no time, any of them,

to turn and even notice how those three queens

 

were simply shocked by it all, each touching their

unwrinkled cheeks with a fine-bred, distant look

 

that stared down the future, saying: one of us

at least could have taken that flight to Iceland.

 


 

Teasel

 

 

for the baize of a

billiard table, or

other evenly

raised pile, but

 

today what I pick

is one that pricks

me out of a habitual

nap – not silver

 

for Christmas as we

used to arrange,

or as hedgehogs

and hairbrushes, no.

 

But seeing them in

their natural state,

a procession up

the aisle and through

 

to this shortest day,

kings of the year

they tease again

that smooth chin.

 


John Greening is a Cholmondeley & Bridport winner: his recent books include To the War Poets,(Carcanet), editions of Blunden and Grigson, Heath (with Penelope Shuttle), an Egypt memoir and the anthologies, Accompanied Voices and Ten Poems about Sheds. The Silence (Carcanet) appears in June 2019.