As the Velvet Glove Drops from a Skinless Hand




Never thought we’d ever burn out:

those checkers we played sometimes two . . . sometimes too many times

a sitting. We forced style as we lacked change.  The moves were always

the same, so the games were always identical--each return more

like a salmon than a Phoenix.


Still, we didn’t lack imagination:

obsessing to win all the checkers, we’d ponder new strategies

with diversities as many as ten turns beyond.  Then, respecting each other’s

intellect, we’d fall back into motion, into what seemed safe

what always seemed like the right moves.


Yet, we didn’t lack progression:

experience never repeats itself in twice the same way, and it was our chemistry

that kept us palm to palm, unable to chance change.  So the games grew

longer as the board narrowed and lengthened into that dynamic path,

where only the checkers expressed personality.


But we didn’t lack incentive:

we played like two wolves locked at the jaws, separate from the neck down.

Teeth dislodged, spittle fusing, bullets ticking overhead as red and black

sheep counterparts jumped off the board till just two were left in stalemate.

“Those were some lambs,” she’d say, “fat lambs, well worth the spittle.”

So, we never lacked enthusiasm:

cybernetic as breath over ice, our perseverance was so defiant it could

have hatched from the thickets cell.  Soldiers in khaki fanned our reflexes

with cards, flicking decks onto the checkers!  An intimation like scent waves,

neither of us needed to look at the board to figure whose move it was.


Guess that’s what kept it interesting:

that, and the way she’d counter with tongue-soft periphery; hypnotic, the way

she'd fang the sides of a red checker with thumb and forefinger, forking them

like wet speech down the sides of the board.  Didn’t think I’d ever tire

of marching the middle, fingering a black circle and sliding it around

and around her precarious reds


Before advancing to the crown:

what else were we to do: but equal the time between turns by equivocating

the moves?  To meet head-on would end the game too, too soon, and neither of us would risk that.  After all, we were as much in it for style.  Can’t imagine

why we couldn't average out.


When it happened, the shock:

of the game's change could have burst from an implosive closet.  Ice

over sand, branches growing from cracks in the wall, ours was a backward

fluidity similar to glue without the stick.  Our play had matured like an infant

with gray hair.  There had to be an imbalance somewhere.


We soon saw ourselves as two hands tugging:

our thumbs the right side brain matter, fingers the checkers.  Between games, we’d keep on our playing gloves and squeeze . . . squeeze-squeeze and then

tug . . . tug-tug until our fingers numbed and gloves fell onto the checkerboard

table, still clenched, still writhing with our skins inside.


The urge of bitter thumbs and skinless fingers:

palms like dripping candles, we agreed we had not attached ourselves

to style, but style to us.  Clamor in her eye receding behind a gloss of cyan,

we played six . . . maybe seven more games, but they no longer seemed

to consist of the right moves.


--- Chris Custer