The Crisis Magazine, June 1967

On the cover, Negro men playing checkers
in the park. Some wear hats, while others wear
waves in their hair. Either way, they’re all clean
and their strategy brims as sharp as their 
suits. Within these pages, they’re playing chess,

protecting future children, as they wear
ties, dress shirts, shined shoes—looking clean
and ready for business or for battle. And their
plan? No longer will textbooks be used as chess
pieces to keep Negro children in check.

Sound familiar? Schools will be pushed to clean
bookshelves of the white-washed lessons of their
past. The NAACP opens minds like games of chess,
and all excuses for hiding a country’s checkered
past will be dismissed. Despite segregation’s wear

and tear from school boards, and the fear of their
white parents, henchmen, bullies—all just chess
pieces, really, but jumping laws like checkers
when life is more complex—books remain where
the mind cannot hide. Either you come clean

and admit your ignorance, or be a pawn on the chess
board of intellect, banning books. They think check-
mate! But when I see Crisis in a library archive where
we still argue to be seen, I lose patience. Kleenex,
please, for Karens clutching their pearls! I pray their

white kids are reading Langston Hughes in a public library: .
But one state over, bookshelves have no Black authors, cleaned
out. Our books remain under attack, Kings in a game of chess.

Copyright © 2024 by A. Van Jordan. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 5, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets. 

Exactly four different men have tried
to teach me how to play. I could never
tell the difference between a rook
or bishop, but I knew the horse meant

knight. And that made sense to me,
because a horse is night: soot-hoof
and nostril, dark as a sabled evening
with no stars, bats, or moon blooms.

It’s a night in Ohio where a man sleeps
alone one week and the next, the woman
he will eventually marry leans her body
into his for the first time, leans a kind

of faith, too—filled with white crickets
and bouquets of wild carrot. And
the months and the honeyed years
after that will make all the light

and dark squares feel like tiles
for a kitchen they can one day build
together. Every turn, every sacrificial
move—all the decoys, the castling,

the deflections—these will be both
riotous and unruly, the exact opposite
of what she thought she ever wanted
in the endgame of her days.

Copyright © 2015 by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 20, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

I was born in Rockaway, below Brooklyn, on a strip
of land that looks like a fat finger stretching into the Atlantic.
I remember no woman who cherished my cradle or teenage
awe. And yet, it was special to grow up behind a hedge,
with the ocean every day in my eyes, special
to uncover the pride my father's Italian face couldn't hide
the time I brought home my first accountant's paycheck.
He wanted to play chess and, smoking but two cigarettes,
let me beat him unequivocally, on a combination rook-and-queen.
He ended by saying to always watch out for those treacherous towers
and the black-and-white crosses their long moves plot.

"Treacherous," he said, somberly: I remembered the word
with a smile that Tuesday, September 11,
as I raced to work through Manhattan.
		And I recall his warning now
that I am dust scattered by an obscene blast
dust lost among the dusts of others undone
below a ravaged sidewalk, next to the leaf where
never will my father find me not even
to hold the hand I'd use to play him. I came from Rockaway
where I knew no woman's love or warmth:
may one now come and ask the white irises
to bloom in my name, faded, erased.
		Rome, September 26, 2001

From Echoes of Memory: Selected Poems of Lucio Mariani. Translation © 2003 by Anthony Molino. Original Italian © 2001 by Lucio Mariani. Reproduced by permission of Wesleyan University Press. All rights reserved.