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Major Jackson

Major Jackson

Major Jackson is the author of three collections of poetry, most recently Holding Company (Norton, 2010). He is the editor of Library of America's Countee Cullen: Collected Poems. A recent recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, Major Jackson is the Richard A. Dennis Green and Gold Professor at University of Vermont. He serves as the poetry editor of the Harvard Review.

Mighty Pawns


If I told you Earl, the toughest kid
on my block in North Philadelphia,
bow-legged and ominous, could beat
any man or woman in ten moves playing white,
or that he traveled to Yugoslavia to frustrate the bearded
masters at the Belgrade Chess Association,
you'd think I was given to hyperbole,
and if, at dinnertime, I took you
into the faint light of his Section 8 home
reeking of onions, liver, and gravy,
his six little brothers fighting on a broken love-seat
for room in front of a black-and-white TV,
one whose diaper sags from a day's worth of feces
it's a wonder it hasn't fallen to his ankles,
the walls behind doors exposing sheetrock
the perfect O of a handle, and the slats
of stairs missing where Baby-boy gets stuck
trying to ascend to a dominion foreign to you and me
with its loud timbales and drums blasting down
from the closed room of his cousin's whose mother
stands on a corner on the other side of town all times
of day and night, except when her relief check
arrives like a furlough at the beginning of each month,
you'd get a better picture of Earl's ferocity
after-school on the board in Mr. Sherman's class,
but not necessarily when he stands near you
at a downtown bus-stop in a jacket two sizes
too small, pushing his shoulders up close around
his ears, as you imagine the caverns of his poverty
and anger, and pray he does not turn his precise
gaze too long in your direction for fear he blames
you and proceeds to take your Queen.

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