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.

Charles Simic, “Prodigy” from Charles Simic: Selected Early Poems. Copyright © 1999 by Charles Simic. Reprinted with the permission of George Braziller, Inc.
Source: Charles Simic: Selected Early Poems (George Braziller Inc., 1999)
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