for my sister -
(Update:Tenerife, beach, chess, paella 25/5/08)
The Biannual Chess Tournament was a family secret. My father had taught my sister and me the moves of pieces on a board, not bothering with the 'easier' game - 'Ghosty Draughts'.
Those circular disks that slide about perhaps upset him, the sweeping ferocity of pieces, able to double up like Shakespeare and fly like little witches about the board in all directions, probably disturbed his masculine calm. Chess, on the other hand, was a game that appealed to his computer brain. And, as it is basically football, or football for the mind, he probably reckoned it's really a game for the boys. He had said, "Draughts...(Sorry, i must add something here..."are like women and") are for doorways and windows and necks and shivers. They come they go. It is not the same draught that comes back - so why do we put the same pieces lost, back on the board?" and he would slowly, methodically place instead, each stone carved chess piece, gently positioning each on the soft soap stone board.
We were young. Of course we were young once! He must have taught us the moves before easy memories. The moves that we remember are as locked-in as our genetic code, and as chess is a meditation, the decisions we make on the board are now also each our own. When my sister and I find ourselves on the same side of the world, in the same town, we meet to talk, to see each other, to read the body, the little face grown by seasons - the mind of each other. We sit down across from each other, setting the pieces carefully, methodically, and have the same discussion about the same rule we never understood, but agree to play the way we always do. If a pawn (we call them 'prawns') is presented and can be taken, it must be taken - so we play that way. (We say 'sorry prawns')
She has seen every single passing moment differently but we share some photographs, taken from our own angles and held; sometimes kept or shown, just for each other. My sister - my friend - who is all the ages she has ever been as her face moves though the thirty-odd years I have known her. For her, I have always been there.
The board is set, the calm is a beautiful quiet, and although we are about to play what is essentially a game of war, we could be in warm-lit open tents in the desert, or in any warm-cool breeze in any of the paradise places we each have lived. The sound of night crickets and a gentle air is setting the tempo and mood to begin. We do not rush. It is the moments before, each listening to the quiet of each other, not as rivals, not as Generals planning strategy on opposite sides, but as the listening pond across a kitchen table to each other. The game we play is that too, until the end, when one resigns or one King is caught, and then the feelings fly and we laugh and laugh at each others surprise, frustration, victory, bewilderment, mistrust, defeat, envy, admiration, foolishness, bravery, cunning, and patience..
Cigarettes, tea, a deepening tranquility of sense. The place where we are fills with soft light - a meditation light and we enjoy the ease with which we can read each other.
It is in this time before, that we realize the peace we have not had - we both know it is that, and we acknowledge this by letting the peace linger. Our father is there and not there - no screaming, no traffic noise, no fearful apprehension, and no waiting for the start or end to the game. We take a long drink of this but it will take a little longer to really settle. My sister is patient with me. I am not as often or as easily the calm she has managed to acquire from the years of her meditation. We know I take longer to come down, and she will smile as she sees me try to find a littlepiece of earth, her eyes laughing at the chair I am attempting to completely sit in. I smile back. We roll a cigarette to share and smoke, and chatting, wonder if tonight we shall play.
"Tun", I say and she looks up. "Your Queen..." She had put her Queen on the wrong coloured square. Perhaps she was not used to these pieces. "The Queen... is the taller one." She looks with her inquisitive wrinkles.
"This one? Oh." She moves her Queen to sit on her Queen's colour, moving the short reign of the King to sit on his coloured square of the opposition. Our Queens face each other and she looks up and smiles. The Queen. The most powerful piece on the board. The one which moves alone, like a draught piece; sweeping, guarding, charging - with no need to double up - to warn, protect, defend, support, attack and slaughter. The Mother of all pieces - a circle of power in her square. I smile back - we see again why we play this game. Queens. Our pieces will look at each other, like women do.
They are carved from cool green and grey unvarnished soap stone, by people who live in a Baroque gold mining town in the farming state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. The town is set in the hills and I had visited it twice on a trail of Topaz - Imperial Topaz - a rare auburn-orange-golden gem mined in a town which called itself Black Gold - Ouro Preto.
I used to wear a rough piece of Imperial around my neck or in my pocket as a charm. It was worthless as a gem, but as a crystal I would rest it in my hand and see a legend. A dusty one-armed boy underground, his white teeth grimacing or smiling by a rock, track, and wagon, sometimes his one arm working a shovel of gems and dust with surprising ease, sometimes leaning on the handle of his spade, sweat dripping, running salt-white lines down his face. When he looked at me, this boy was always smiling and I never understood why, but he would speak. He would talk about nothing, just like we were taking a break together.
When he talks I am only perplexed afterwards, as each time he leaves, I am sure of my memory - that he had been chatting to me with two hands. Why did I never notice this in the one arm dream? I remember two hands and arms on the handle of the shovel, yet he comes to my dream with only one. There is a legend, but I have lost the memory of that story - something about a boy slave of the mines. I had seen his tomb at the mouth of one of the abandoned ones. It is a story and a dream mixed in my mind with other boy spirits of the woods: two Brazilian myths. One flagrantly colourfull Brazilian Village legend and one Aztec pipe playing spirit, Kokopelli, who is always in silhouette.
"What are you thinking?" Tun asked from behind her tea. When most ask that question I am at a complete loss - when she does, I say: "Kokopelli,".
"Say the poem." she says. I try and am surprised to hear some come back to me.
Pipe playing golden melody
From across the Rio Grande...
"Go on.." she says. "Have you lost that one too?"
I feel ashamed. A sad blush at my tattered life, its pages sent, buried, lost or forgotten, abandoned or shredded along the many shady paths and trails my bare feet had been. If Life was a river, I had let pages pass and pass and pass me by, without keeping much.
"I don't know. May be i can write another if i can't find it."
"Give me copy when you do." She says, sweetly.
"In a valley full-rich with fertile myth, rise up and make your stand..."
"'Kokopelli comes, to gently take your hand' comes before that!" she says simply, and I feel my head sit upright and my feet touch the ground. I hadn't seen that poem for twenty years.
"Now that you have sat down - shall we play?" she says, a half smile for me.
"You, are a draughty draft/draught!"
"No - i am a cool warm breeze!"
"Yes - you are a cool warm breeze and a draughty draft!"
"No - I am not a draughty draught though - the 'same ones don't come back', remember?"
"Tun." I say, and she looks up.
"'You are a river, a river, a river -
A river you are swimming through
And I a rock, or a spot from which I see the seasons,
The water passing over softening rocky pebbles,
AGING BOUGHS - ha ha! - dipping their fingers into moving water...
...a rock or spot or bough or pebble
You are a river'"
"Do draughty draughts come back the same then? Are you being water, water, water,'Pondlife'?"
"Yeah Oh WiseTadpole - there are moments when draughts and rivers and tadpoles are enough the same as in the moments or seasons before or after - you know that."
"Mexican myth, modern man, Pan-piping mountain river song, From across the Rio Grande!" then, she beams proudly. "I know - and sometimes your dafty drafts come back too..."
I shake my head. "How do you do that?"
Meditation, meditation, meditation..." she says, "You smoke too much." She moves her prawn two spaces forward and all goes gently, blissfully, quiet.