Joe Dolce: ‘Monkey-Skin Pillbox Hat’ and ‘Philidor’s Pawns’

Monkey-Skin Pillbox Hat

It’s said that an infinite number of monkeys,
typing for a month, or a year,
would be able to discover all the works
of William Shakespeare.

I think that half that number,
working from a trailer,
could come up with the collected works
of Norman Mailer,

and a mere cageful, at the Melbourne Zoo,
would be more than willin’
to have a go, with some alphabet blocks,
at the recent songs of Dylan.

Joe Dolce


Philidor’s Pawns

Young Francois,
at fourteen,
when your voice broke
and you could no longer hit
those high notes
for the King’s choirmaster,
your hands quickly moved
to the chessmen.
Double prodigy in music
and the Royal Game,
you beat Rousseau and Voltaire
and exclaimed,
“Pawns are the Soul of Chess!”

How could you have foreseen,
old master, that afternoon, in 1781,
at the Café de la Regence—
as the American ambassador,
Franklin, his own thoughts
stuffed with checkmates and kites,
French wine and the Declaration,
with admiration for your skill,
slid a copy of your book,
Analyse du Jeu des Échecs,
toward you for signature—

that in twelve short years
the ground would swallow the Bastille,
Queen Marie’s eyes would glaze over,
crowds would push forth
to soak their clothes
in the blood, of Louis’ head, as it dripped
from the deck of the guillotine,

and that you, Philidor,
and your singing pawns,
would live and die
in exile in England,
your own name high on
the Reign of Terror

Joe Dolce

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