Poetry Performance: “On Teaching Chess to My Daughter”

John Survivor Blake is a writer, lecturer, teaching artist, performance poet and workshop facilitator. A finalist at the National Poetry Slam in Austin, Texas, and The ILL LIST Slam in Modesto, Calif., Blake has also been a four-time semifinalist at the world-famous Nuyorican Poets’ Cafe and a finalist at the Urbana Slam in NYC. He has worked with youth nationwide over the past five years, from Warehouse508 in Albuquerque, N.M., to the Slam Richmond Reading Series in Virginia. He recently coached Richmond’s youth slam team to rank third in the international “Brave New Voices” competition. Blake has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, published in literary reviews and journals and debuted his first full collection of poetry, “Beautifully Flawed,” in September 2012. A memoir, “Wildflower – A Son Remembers a Remarkable Woman,” will publish in early 2013. The full text of his performance can found below the video.

This video features Blake performing “On Teaching Chess to My Daughter” in the preliminary round of the 2012 National Poetry Slam in Charlotte, N.C., in August.

The Penmen Review will feature a spotlight interview with John Survivor Blake in November 2012.

“On Teaching Chess to My Daughter”

No, I will not go easy on you. No
you can’t take that move back.
You can’t afford to play better tomorrow.

Professors have no pity. Landlords
want rent. Frat-boys got hidden cameras.
Politicians are outside churches, coming
for your rights, bible in one hand
and a gag in the other.

You are not just a girl.
Hollywood wants your heart
smothered by implants. The mall
needs you scared to love your hips.
Magazine racks keep your face
off the covers in hopes your reflection
never responds to the call of beauty.

Hold your Queen without
judging her figure. Stop
fussing with your hair.
Your flatiron will not
uncurl insecurities. No,
you may not watch
“Pretty Little Liars”.
The television has a glass ceiling.
Quit Barbie-thinking.

Yes, you lost again. Making
the Dean’s List means knowing
your next eight moves. Did you
know your tears are salted
by the sweat of slaves, the ones
that didn’t drown in the Atlantic?
Do you have any idea the rapids
we’ve survived in this river of blood
just to plot your degree?

Do you know how many rapes
your mother endured?

Her stretch-marks are claw-marks
of her body letting you go. This
is why losing hurts, how her breasts
hardened after your teeth cut though.
This is why you must name every knot
in your stomach. Here is where you come
into your own.

Worship the red rain between your legs.
Sit up. Stop guessing, timid thing.
You stare out that window like
a knight is coming to save you. Look
at my opening. Here is how wolves
ambush. Your next decision
could be the difference between
someday staying for the children or
taking a knife to his resting neck.

This is the only time you sacrifice your Queen,

When ten years in prison trumps your mouth
sewn shut in a coffin. Knuckles gnawed
on the other side of a locked door never
means I’m sorry. Yes, he will
do it again. Ignore potential
and calculate risk. If you
see it coming, it’s coming.
Know it before it comes.
My mother didn’t see it coming.
My father called her his Bitch.
We should have seen it coming.

Move when you see it coming.

The Queen can set out in any direction.
Lost the king, and you will only lose a game,
but She is all the moves I see in you.
Lost your Queen and all sixty-four squares
will burn.

I lost kingdoms to learn this. Your mother
is not my first Queen, but the first
I finally bowed to.

I know these lyrics, this melody
does not please your pop-song life,
but there are too many moves
for you to learn
you are not just a pawn,
but born to rule.

Category: Poetry