Deep Chess

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Life itself like championship chess
                       dark players jousting
          on a checkered field
                  where you have only
          so much time
                 to complete your moves
And your clock running
               all the time
    and if you take
               too much time
                       for one move
       you have that much less
                      for the rest
            of your life
And your opponent
           dark or fair
     (which may or may not be
                 life itself)
bugging you with his deep eyes
  or obscenely wiggling his crazy eyebrows
    or blowing smoke in your face
      or crossing and recrossing his legs
                          or her legs
or otherwise screwing around
  and acting like some insolent invulnerable
                     unbeatable god
    who can read your mind & heart
And one hasty move
           may ruin you
  for you must play
             deep chess
     (like the one deep game Spassky won from Fischer)
And if your unstudied opening
                    was not too brilliant
   you must play to win not draw
      and suddenly come up with
                 a new Nabokov variation
And then lay Him out at last
        with some super end-game
               no one has ever even dreamed of
And there's still time-
                  Your move 


A Note on Lawrence Ferlinghetti

This poem was originally published in Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s 1976 book 
‘Who Are We Now?’ Lawrence Ferlinghetti founded the City Lights bookstore
 and publishing house in 1953. He famously had to face obscenity charges 
when his press published Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ in its Pocket Poets 
series in 1956. The resulting judgement in the publisher’s favour 
continues to play a role in upholding the First Amendment defence of 
freedom of speech in the USA.  Ferlinghetti (born in 1919) is now in his 
mid-90s and is the oldest surviving member of the famous ‘beat generation’