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By Major Jackson

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 cracked flat-screen,

one whose diaper sags it’s a wonder

it hasn’t fallen to his ankles,

the walls behind doors exposing the 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 whose mother

stands on a corner on the other side of town

all times of day and night, except when her relief

check arrives at the beginning of the 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 a size too

small, hunching his shoulders around his ears,

as you imagine the checkered squares 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.

 


Major Jackson, "Might Pawns" from Roll Deep. Copyright © 2015 by Major Jackson.  Reprinted by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc..

Source: Roll Deep (W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2015)

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Poet Bio

Major Jackson
Major Jackson's books of poems are Holding Company and Hoops, both finalists for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literature-Poetry, and Leaving Saturn, which was awarded the Cave Canem Poetry Prize for a first book of poems and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in poetry. He is a recipient of a Whiting Writers' Award and has been honored by the Pew Fellowship in the Arts and the Witter Bynner Foundation in conjunction with the Library of Congress. He is a professor of English at the University of Vermont. See More By This Poet

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