Chess
Saturday, April 25, 1998
Listen

I've lost a lot of life's battles,
I've known defeat and distress,
But I've not met defeat quite so grim and complete
As when I lost to Matthew at chess.
I've been dissed, dismissed, and demoted
I've even been dumped, I confess,
But never disgraced, demeaned and debased,
Until I lost to Matthew at chess.
He is ten years old and wears glasses
And he weighs eighty pounds or less.
When he checkmated me, I thought, This cannot be,
But I've just lost to Matthew at chess.

TR (KID): You want to play chess?

GK: ....he asked me.
One Saturday morning in May.
And the gleam in his eye made me pause and reply,
"I'm extremely busy today."

TR (KID): You want to play chess?

GK: It was him again.
Late Saturday afternoon.
And his tone was so snide, I gulped and replied,
"How about the last week of June?"

TR: You promised to play me---

GK: A month had passed.
And there he was, once again.
And he set up the board on the living room floor
And we sat down and set up our men. (SFX)

He advanced up the middle and soon my bishop
Was caught in a three-way trap. (TK BRIT: Dear me!)
I sent out a knight to join in the fight
And he got shot in the kneecap. (TR CRY OF PAIN)

My bishop stood in confusion.

TK: Oh dear, what a pickle.

GK: he said.

TK: O Lord lift thine arm and preserve me from harm

GK: And Matthew lopped off his head. (TK SHUDDER, LOP, PLOP)

I castled my king to protect him
And I cautiously put forth a pawn. (TK TIMOROUS PAWN)
And in rode his knight (GALLOPING) in open daylight
And my other bishop was gone. (TR BRIT CRY, SPEARING, TR FALLS)

(TK AND TR MOUTH TRUMPETS, BATTLE SFX, HORSES, BATTLE MUSIC)

We fought it out in the middle,
We fought it out on the side,
Men in the saddle rode into the battle,
One after the other they died.

The air was filled with anguish,
You could hear the bagpipes skirling (BAGPIPES)
The spaces shook from the march of the rook (TR GUTTURAL YELL)
And the knights wheeling and whirling.

My queen sat calmly knitting
Protected by two loyal pawns,
TR BRIT LADY: What's all that shooting and shouting and hooting
Out on our royal lawns?

TR BRIT LADY: We do not choose to lower ourself
To engage in such crude pursuits----
I'll stay right here, and ignore them, oh dear,
Such uncouth uncivilized brutes.

TK: Excuse me, ma'am. It's me. Your left rook.

TR: Yes? Pray tell, what is it?
Don't pester me when it's time for my tea---

TK: It's another queen, ma'am, come to visit.

GK: The other queen rode across the board (MOTORCYCLE)
She was not what you'd call polite.
She wore a T-shirt that said, "Eat my dirt,"
Her pants were pink, sequinned, and tight.

A cigarette dangled from her lower lip,
And she carried a six-pack of beer.
An axe and two knives and two .45s
On a long leather bandolier.

She was short and fat and ugly,
And she yelled with all her might:

SS: Come out of your tower, you big fat coward,
Get your butt on the field and fight!

GK: She planted herself in my queen's face
With only a pawn in between.

TR BRIT: Who is that slut on the horse, tut, tut,
She certainly is no queen.

Her hair is a mess, and that fishmonger's voice!
And her manners --- my, my --- she is rough.
Go see to her, rook, and tell her I'll brook
No insults from her, no insolent---- (TR STRANGULATION)

GK: And my queen fell flat on her back,
With the other queen's foot on her neck,
And she scratched and grinned and she broke wind (SFX)
As Matthew whispered---

TR: Check.

GK: I looked at my king and he looked at me---

TR BRIT DOLT: Oh dear--- In check? --- oh my.
Well, it doesn't look good but maybe I could
Find a way to play to a tie.

TR DOLT: Or maybe that pawn could run to the end
And then be promoted to queen.
I'm sure we've not lost, but at least, at all cost,
One must remain serene.

GK: And he stood there serene and regal and proud
As the enemy queen stood and laughed (SS LAUGHTER)
As proud as could be, and my monarchy
Was feeling understaffed.

A lowly pawn (TK) and a miserable knight (TR)
And a rook made up our crew. (TK)

TR DOLT: It looks rather gloomy, but come, rally to me,
And we'll figure out what to do.

(TR KING DITHERING)

GK: And he brought out his charts and studied his books
And he muttered:
TR: Ahem. Let me see.
The hypotenuse squared by the root of the hair
Of the dog times X over 3.

And carry the two, and divide by Y----

GK: And the handsome royal face
Was very concerned, as he carefully turned
And moved himself back one space.

And the pawn said--- TK: Brilliant!
the knight said:
TR: Superb!
And the rook said...
TK: Beautiful, sir.
And the king said...
TR: My boy, it's a little known ploy
That is known as the Spanish spur.

It was used by grandmaster Peter O'Bleness
In 1978,
When it seemed he had lost----
GK: And then the King paused,
And Matthew said.....

TR: Checkmate.

GK: And his queen moved four spaces back (SS CHUCKLE)
Killing the rook with one blow (KONK, TK DEATH),
And the king looked around at the bloody ground
And there simply was no place to go.

TR DOLT: Impossible! Why---- it cannot be.
I'll escape ---- I'll find a route!

GK: And queen said:

SS: Oh yeah? You think so? Ha!
Give up, ya big galoot.

TR DOLT: If I only could think--- I must persevere---
Dear me----- a route of escape----

SS: Throw down your sword and kneel on the board
And kiss my foot, ya big ape.

TR DOLT: I must not give up ---- my army is scattered ---
I simply have to regroup it.

SS: Hey, king! kiss my foot---- it's over, kaput,
What's wrong with you? you stupid?

My head felt strangely empty
It seemed like a terrible joke.
My king was alone on his tiny throne
Awaiting the final stroke. (TR DOLT)

I said, "Look--- there's a polar bear out on the lawn!"
But Matthew did not blink his eyes.
I guess he had learned you should never turn
Your back on somebody my size.

My king was dazed----
TR DOLT: Oh well--- toodle-ooo
I surrender.
GK: He said with a sigh.
And the queen yelled,
SS: Whee---hoo! Boogers on you!
GK: And she looked up and spit in my eye. (SS SPIT)

SS: I know you, mister, you think you're so smart,
You got your comeuppance at last.
What you know about chess gets less and less
Cause your brain cells are dying so fast.

He can eat your lunch any day of the week
Even though he's only a kid---
Let's play again soon ---- Sunday afternoon----
GK: And that's when I locked up the lid. (CLICK)

And later my king said,
TR DOLT: I've thought of a move
I'm sure would have won the day----
Look here--- if this pawn had not stopped but gone on---
Things would have turned out okay.

GK: But when Matthew says,

TR: Now? Would you like to play?

GK: I say, Of course, for sure.
But I have to go. ---And now you know
Why this show is here on tour.

We love to see new places
And we love to travel, my, yes.
And how happy I am to be in Potsdam
And not have to play him at chess.

© 1998 BY GARRISON KEILLOR

Old Sweet Songs: A Prairie Home Companion 1974-1976

Old Sweet Songs

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