The bishop moves diagona.., p.1
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       The Bishop Moves Diagonally, p.1

           Steve Silkin
The Bishop Moves Diagonally




  Copyright 2011 Steve Silkin

  This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment and lending under the usual and customary protocols. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

  WHAT HAPPENED to you, that boy whose sister

  Gave him a chess set when he was six

  Born in America, during the Holocaust

  What a strange game you would play, Bobby Fischer

  Your mother was Jewish, her husband Hans, German

  He was suspected of Communist sympathies

  He could not come here, so you never knew him

  Your real father, Paul, was a Hungarian Jew

  When you learned the bishop moves diagonally

  You said: “All I want to do, ever, is play chess.”

  New York in the fifties, what an amazing place

  Boom times and beatniks, a world of possibilities

  Mom left you alone with your sister in Brooklyn

  And moved to England, across the Atlantic

  While you were playing your pawns and rooks

  Did that make you feel she’d abandoned you, Bobby?

  Soon you were named the world’s youngest grand master

  The shiniest star in your strange galaxy

  To its formulas and strategies you would bring

  Your burning talent and something beyond

  A Jewish agency arranged my adoption

  Just a few miles away from where you were then

  Spending your days perfecting your play

  And learning to see things that others could not

  You were losing a chess game to Robert Byrne

  But with a few moves you made a comeback

  For a checkmate so stunning that they would say

  You were like Rembrandt, or Brahms, or Shakespeare

  We moved to L.A. and my dad’s friend Maurice

  Came from New York and gave me a chess set

  And showed me that the bishop moves diagonally

  I taught my dad and we’d play together

  You lost to the Soviets, you made some bad moves

  Even so, you accused them of cheating

  And dropped out of championships for five years

  Until the rules were changed to your liking

  My dad and mom took me to San Diego

  We crossed the border to shop in Tijuana

  We bought a cheap steel-stringed guitar

  And a big, beautiful wooden chess set

  Soviet missiles were aimed at my neighborhood

  Targeting Lockheed, Rocketdyne, Hughes

  We kept hearing we could die any day

  And we believed it because it was true

  One morning in ’71 the earthquake hit

  Shaking so hard that our pool splashed half empty

  For a few seconds I thought bombs had fallen

  And it was the end of everyone and everything

  Later that year my dad bought me tickets

  To see Led Zeppelin at the Forum in Inglewood

  So I heard Robert Plant sing “Stairway to Heaven”

  The first time the band ever played it in public

  The concert opened with “Immigrant Song”

  A driving guitar riff and pounding drums

  “We come from the land of the ice and snow”

  Then “Dazed and Confused” with a violin bow

  Soon you would take the role of our champion

  Against the Soviets – like David faced Goliath

  With no armor, naked, just a slingshot –

  You had no missiles against Boris Spassky

  An arena of rock fans would cheer Jimmy Page

  When he played guitar on “Whole Lotta Love”

  While all around the world, not thousands but millions

  Were rooting for you, Bobby, millions and millions

  So you went to the land of the ice and snow

  You complained about noise, you were surly, impatient

  But your game was so bold, so new and so strong

  Even Spassky applauded one of your checkmates

  That was when I stopped seeing my friends

  I was tired of them, they didn’t like me much either

  I’d stay home Friday nights and set up the pieces

  To play two or three quiet games with my dad

  Spassky left before the tournament ended

  No longer respectful, he phoned in his forfeit

  And that’s when you became the world champion

  The greatest player in the history of chess

  You gave sixty-one thousand to a Pasadena church

  Jesus would come back in ’75, they said

  Then, when he didn’t, you walked out on them

  You should have asked for your money back, Bobby

  Three years after your triumph in Iceland

  You were living alone in an acquaintance’s basement

  She was your only friend in the world, then:

  A little old lady from Pasadena

  One day the cops thought that you were burglar

  You were arrested, then you claimed they abused you

  You wrote a 14-page pamphlet and called it

  “I Was Tortured in the Pasadena Jailhouse”

  I didn’t know you were there then, so close

  Just a few miles from me down the freeway

  I wouldn’t have visited you, though, Bobby

  I had lost interest in you and your game

  … And I don’t think my father ever knew, really,

  How much I loved playing those chess games with him

  The Friday nights when I was fourteen and fifteen

  The warmth of his kindness, his gentle affection

  Then you refused a challenge from Karpov

  So they took away your title of champion

  I was in college, and worked at a porn theater

  I’d sit in the stairway to read Mishima and Ibsen

  I finished my studies in Paris then got a job there,

  Kasparov beat Karpov in a weird tournament

  They played the same game over and over!

  You were invisible, a penniless hermit

  In French, the king is le roi and the queen is la reine

  But the bishop is not l’eveque, the bishop is le fou –

  The court jester, or literally: the crazy one

  Is that because the bishop moves diagonally?

  I flew from France for my father’s funeral

  It was my worst day, Dad, and not just because

  We would never play chess again

  I never thanked you for all you had done for me

  I moved back to L.A. to take care of my mom

  The Soviet Union was signed into oblivion

  With the stroke of a pen that Gorbachev borrowed

  From an American who was standing next to him

  Slobo was doing his ethnic cleansing

  I was visiting Paris when I was told that

  A Yugoslav friend went to look for his mom there

  And to this day I don’t know if he found her.

  You didn’t care, Bobby, you played there anyway

  You beat Spassky again and won three million dollars

  But lost your country, you were stripped of your passport

  You placed the blame on a Jewish conspiracy

  Then Kasparov faced off with Big Blue

  In a match that was designed to determine

  If a computer could outplay a human champion …

  But machines cannot love and machines cannot hate

  You drifted around, from country to country

; They say you spent time in Germany and Hungary

  Were you seeking the fathers that you never knew?

  Mom’s communist husband, her Jewish lover?

  One winter morning I buried mom next to dad

  The porn place I’d worked at turned into a theater

  They did The Doll’s House on stage there one weekend

  The dream was a world or the world was a dream?

  Your mother and sister had died, Bobby Fischer

  And you could not come home to tell them goodbye

  But you wouldn’t sit quietly and play random chess

  There was still something more that you needed to say

  Arabs crashed planes into the twin towers

  Across the river from where you grew up

  Just down the street from Washington Square

  Where you’d mastered your game when you were young

  How could you rejoice over the carnage,

  The severed limbs, people burning and falling?

  They were not chess pieces, Bobby Fischer,

  Not pawns, not knights. How could you think that?

  Your words came to us from across the Pacific

  On Manila radio you described your approval

  As crowds crossed the bridge back to your old Brooklyn

  Fleeing the chaos that delighted you so

  Later, eight months in a Japanese jail

  While the U.S. tried to bring you back to stand trial

  Then you were granted refuge in Reykjavik

  You went back to the land of the ice and snow

  Into the mist you would fade, matching moves

  With your wife – she was a chess master, too

  Could you enjoy the midnight sun with her?

  Or did you think it was another Jewish plot?

  I went to New York six months after 9/11

  On a spring morning I stood at Ground Zero,

  The next day the woman in charge of adoption files

  Had just left her office; I still haven’t called her

  I was in the Big Apple at the dawn of the century

  What an amazing place, a world of the wonderful

  The Graduate on Broadway, the ballet at Lincoln Center

  And the Darger exhibit at the Folk Art Museum

  Five years later, Led Zeppelin played Wembley

  A million people were bidding for tickets

  To hear what I’d heard back in ’71

  You were dying in the land of the ice and snow

  At the end, could you see the missing piece?

  The bishop moves diagonally

  Sometimes you play the bishop

  And sometimes the bishop plays you

  Dad, even if you were still alive

  You might be too old for chess

  Still, I wish we could have kept playing

  Those Friday night games forever

  Comments? stevesilkin at

  Thanks to Seann McCollum, J.J. Hudson and Richard Herd.

  Cover Design: Daniel Loeb

  If you liked this poem, please read more by this author:

  The Cemetery Vote

  Forbidden Stories

  Too Lucky and Other Stories

  The Telescope Builder

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