Tobias Hill

Playing Chess with the Elder Mrs Uchida (1996)

between the ebb of dusk
and turn of night, mosquitoes
gentle as thistledown
alight from the violet air
and settle on my hands and in her hair.
She brushes them away, and mutters
at the choice of pawn or knight.

The wind across the dry field
carried the chinks of bats
like jewels. The coolness
forces us inside. The board
set on tatami mats. She opens windows,
loosens nets. Outside
the rice-farmers burn scrub
to stubble. Mars and Sirius
are dulled, and the moon
ages with dust. She sits.

‘My husband is dead.’
‘I’m sorry.
How old was he?’

Over the board, her eyes
predict, calculate. Her hands
are veined and livered,
tapping at a pawn
and moving on.
‘He is dead.’

‘We were married in Autumn.
We say “Autumn, when
the sky is high
and the horses getting fat”.

‘What did he do?’
‘He brought me red cicadas.
Closed in his hands, like this.
Like little birds. They sang
Me-me-.’ Her smile works
against the drawn lines
of her features.

Taps, taps. Lancer. King.
‘Now he is dead. The cicadas
will not sing again. Ever
ever.’ The sky
accumulates darkness.




‘Playing Chess’ appeared in Midnight in the City of Clocks and is © Tobias Hill. For notes about Tobias Hill and his work in print see One Day in Hiroshima.






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