*in chess, a situation where one is forced by the rules of the game to make a move, but all the
possible moves are disadvantageous.
Mother offers an afternoon match
by the river, a lesson
in parlour games en plein air --
simply pawns on the lawn,
subject to the movement
of knights, bishops,
the rooks crowing,
the royalty guarded
Nanny oversees the surrender
to all that is inevitable.
She starches the collar, braids the hair,
demonstrates absolute control
even in defeat.
In the nursery, the first move is made –
the rosy cheeks, the warm brocade.
Later the clothes reflect the board,
a black and gold echo of life
squared away, the beginnings
of feigned subservience.
Over time the losses pile high –
pieces toppled in sacrifice –
her only choice to play the game
or pretend. By look or by rook,
I’ll manage a checkmate in the end.
Betsy Mars is an LA-based poet and educator. Her parents instilled in her a love of language, culture, and social justice. She is passionate about animals, travel, and making up for lost time while striving to learn, read, improve her poetry. Her work has recently appeared in Tuck, Sheila-Na-Gig, and in a number of anthologies. Her first chapbook, Alinea, was published in January by Picture Show Press.
A Distant Mirror
My sisters and I played “chess” for years,
sharpening our skills and sometimes
our nails. We were good at making unpredictable
moves on life’s game board, drawing a little blood,
carving a few scars on our psyches.
Yet, sisters, forever sisters, we were delivered
from the same womb, bound by our mother’s blood
and body. So for her 95th birthday, we called
a cease-fire, laid down our pawns and bishops,
horsemen and castles, a lifetime of skirmishes
and jealousies to gather photos, banners,
a star-studded tablecloth and napkins, coffee,
lemonade—then order a half-chocolate-
half-vanilla cake, butter-creamed with yellow roses
for the Texas-born queen.
Outside severe winds and rain whipped around
the city, the house, an echo of our tornado-prone
history. But our perennial game design, as we criss-
crossed the board, had always been, to retain a sweet,
sisterly image, good manners, deceptive smiles.
Perhaps that’s why I see Sofonisba’s painting as
a distant mirror of what we carried off so well.
The Chess Game, a revelation of pecking order
in Renaissance elegance, an Italian setting. Europa
gives her older sister a charming, yet mischievous smile.
Minerva, hand raised, concedes checkmate, to her older
sister. And Lucia looks directly at the oldest sister,
the artist who paints expressions that might tell other
stories, ones that only the old servant, watching intently
from the side, could tell us—as I hint at ours now.
Sandi Stromberg has appreciated how the challenges presented by The Ekphrastic Review stretch her as a poet and allow her to pursue different styles. She also loves gathering poets’ work into anthologies. She co-edited Echoes of the Cordillera (ekphrastic poems, Museum of the Big Bend, 2018) and Untameable City: Poems on the Nature of Houston (Mutabilis Press, 2015). Her poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, read on PBS, and recently published in the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News, as well as multiple small journals and anthologies.
Why We All Became Painters Except Minerva,
The middle sister with lace at my neck,
pearls on the throat of a dress
black and gold, I raise my hand
to speak of the last move
of the one who’s won at chess.
We gather around, pretend to play,
hot, sweaty, attired in our finest
while Sofonisba, behind the canvas,
gets all the attention when the paint dries.
I will hold the brush one day.
Kyle Laws is based out of the Arts Alliance Studios Community in Pueblo, CO where she directs Line/Circle: Women Poets in Performance. Her collections include Faces of Fishing Creek (Middle Creek Publishing), So Bright to Blind (Five Oaks Press), and Wildwood (Lummox Press). Ride the Pink Horse is forthcoming in 2019. With six nominations for a Pushcart Prize, her poems and essays have appeared in magazines and anthologies in the U.S., U.K., and Canada. She is the editor and publisher of Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press.
What I imagined a coup de grace makes her smile.
My lifted hand longs to slap away smugness.
To be born second is to bear much. Guess
how often “her highness” has made me the fool?
Some day, some day, vengeance’ll
be mine, sayeth the Lord. Only nurse
behind me prevents hair pulling. Curse
little sister as well, her minion, while
I fight alone. And to have to wear her clothes
and use her schoolbooks, never the chance
to come to an idea first! I cherish hate
like an ember, like a caverned dragon, loathe
to temper even a single degree. (Hence
the missed volta, resentment’s grim estate.)
Though an only child, this poet knows the burn of resentment. For more of her work, visit: https://pelapdx.wixsite.com/devonbalwitpoet
To Sofonisba Anguissola Regarding The Chess Game
So well you paint the hand and face
of sibling joy that you embrace...
...and father's love therein implied
by art and chess becoming pride
of girls so long assumed unfit
to paint or play by guile and wit...
...a fact not lost on sallow eyes
you render well in servile guise
that bear the joy, by heaven's Grace,
of having seen the changing face
of life where class and gender role
no longer will confine the soul
to lesser than its skills could serve
with training proven they deserve.
Portly Bard: Old man.
Prefers to craft with sole intent
of verse becoming complement...
...and by such homage being lent...
ideally also compliment.
The Chess Game
The season I was seven and rambunctious,
Paul Cornyetz taught me how to play chess.
He took the chessmen out of a pine box,
placed them on the checkerboard on their appointed
squares, explained to me what moves each piece required,
I was alone that summer, my mother and sister
away at dance practice, my father working in the city.
Paul and his wife Bernice were taking care of me.
I can’t remember a single thing we did together,
just the chess game, Paul’s long, perfect fingers,
his intent appreciation. He wrote instructions for me
in a book I no longer have, his penmanship precise,
I sensed chess required diligence, anticipation,
the memory of moves played and moves imagined.
Something mathematical, formulaic, dull. It was
a man’s game, strategic, and I would not be tamed.
There was nothing I could see about romance and passion,
fashionable Italian silks, sisters -- their hair done up in braids –
competing. Nothing about the exciting power of knights, bishops,
a Queen, the prospect of toppling the King.
Ronnie Hess is a journalist and poet who lives in Madison, WI. She is the author of five poetry chapbooks (the most recent, Canoeing a River with No Name) and two award-winning culinary travel guides (Eat Smart in France, Eat Smart in Portugal). ronniehess.com
Guests assume the chess board
belongs to our brother,
since women lack sufficient logic
for strategy. Mother insists
my young sisters learn to play.
Elena smiles at me after easily
beating Minerva, just as I used to
defeat her. Soon practice will even
the odds. Would any man but Papa
have secured my art training
with Signori Campi and Gatti (a path
for sisters and other women to follow)?
Most find it odd that I can paint
as well as any man. I must bow and blush
if anyone dares say so. My masters
kindly acknowledge my gifts, knowing
I cannot sign my work, study anatomy,
or charge a wage. Money can only buy
so much privilege. No matter. Home
surrounds me with loving subjects
beyond my well-studied face. Alone,
we sisters can be ourselves,
without concealing pride, glee, shock,
even my piercing artist’s stare,
behind society’s masks. Soon I’ll be ready
to play more serious games at the Spanish
Court. Perhaps I’ll test how gracefully
my suitors lose at chess.
Alarie Tennille is deeply indebted to women like Sofonisba Anguissola who persisted in making their way in a man’s world. Four hundred years after her, Alarie was a pioneer coed at the University of Virginia. Her latest poetry book, Waking on the Moon, contains many poems first published by The Ekphrastic Review. Please visit her at alariepoet.com.
The artist positioned young sister well. She stands
“centre stage.” Her delight, as you can tell, reveals
that big sister holds mama in the clutch. And mama, not
troubled much, looks calmly at her viewer, blithely aware
of nurse standing by. But nurse may have nudged a move
and steered the girl toward her first conquest. Both sisters
know what’s about to happen. They stare until the act
is done. Black is positioned, solidly in place. Big sister,
though doubtful, will soon have the king and young
sister can’t wait to witness the win.
Carole Mertz has published poems at the Society of Classical Poets, Muddy River Poetry Review, Eclectica, and the Ekphrastic Review. Her critiques of poetry collections are at Mom Egg Review, Dreamers Creative Writing, Eclectica, World Literature Today, and elsewhere. Carole resides with her husband in Parma, OH.
These Games We Play
No Facebook followers for Sofonisba,
no edit, crop, colour enhance on
image shared in these games we play
but reel back through annals of time,
she is there, influencer extraordinaire.
Fearless pioneer, this modern queen,
able to travel without restraint
no squares to confine, pawns to check
an equal to logical, masculine thought,
the placement of brush, perfection.
Here her sisters pose, relaxed
the eldest turned toward the light
caught in the eye of artist’s lens,
creator of portrait and feminine love
inspiring Renaissance women to rise.
Close by sits the youngest
smiling at strategy, freely
watching the game unfold
her face exuding the beauty of learning,
privilege clothed as a gilded gift.
Kate Young lives in Kent with her husband and has been passionate about poetry and literature since childhood. After retiring, she has returned to writing and has had success with poems published in Great Britain and internationally. She is presently editing her work for an anthology and enjoying responding to ekphrastic challenges. Alongside poetry, Kate enjoys art, dance and playing her growing collection of guitars and ukuleles!
He may be her King but
she is Chair of the Board
in absolute control with
a driven woman’s touch
as her fingers squeeze his pulse
making one Princess wince while
her younger sibling smiles.
gasping as it hurts him.
Can you hear his cry?
The pain from a scream
reverberates across the ether
as bishops and knights cower
along with the pawns
acknowledging her power,
subservient to her strength.
her Lady Macbeth moment for
she is a feisty feminist.
Leader in a man’s World but
they don’t lead her domain.
As her Mother looks on
wishing she had the courage
before her man passed away.
lessons to her daughters,
bits between their teeth.
Princesses with skill, ambition
and joie de vive fighting
a constricting glass ceiling to
balance for better,
better the World
on a Board of equal terms.
Born in Scotland of Irish lineage, Alun Robert is a prolific creator of lyrical verse achieving success in poetry competitions in Europe and North America. His poems have featured in international literary magazines, anthologies and on the web. He is particularly inspired by ekphrastic challenges.
To Teach Children Chess
Make a ridiculous wager--
pull out your eyes,
roll them like dice on a craps table,
hope they come to rest pupils up.
This is teaching chess to children.
Just a matter of time before
tantrum clouds move in--
flash lightning and thunder,
threaten stale-mate frustration.
In the end, pose for effect.
The ol’ I’m-not-paying-attention
fake-out before the kill--
while youngest child plays
upon suicidal nerves of the elder.
A classic bait that favours the mentor.
Jordan Trethewey is a writer and editor living in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. Some of his work found a home here and in other online and print publications such as Burning House Press, Visual Verse, CarpeArte Journal, and Califragile. His poetry has also been translated in Vietnamese and Farsi. To see more of his work go to: https://jordantretheweywriter.wordpress.com
The Chess Game
You gave me a small copy of this painting
for my bookshelf. Inside the silver rectangle,
Sofonisba’s sisters Minerva, Lucia
and Europa (oh the fantastic names!)
sit fresh-faced and smart around the chessboard,
while their nurse (“a contrast in age and class
to her charges,” a critic said, missing the point)
seems to think her own thoughts unobserved.
Who knows? Maybe I’d told you about these girls’
sparkle and verve, about a sense
of bright possibility for lives vivid
and sharp and just beginning, like my own child’s--
or maybe it was you thought their portraits
a good means for conveying what you never
wanted me to forget: that woman was a capable
strong creature, that I was these things and more
and so was the granddaughter you loved.
In spare lamplight, ringed by books,
some of which keep your ideas inside them,
I hold the thin frame in my hands
and think of you. Are you there? Can you see me?
I miss you. Will you give me a sign? I need that--
a shift in air, its grain varying,
like a piece sliding forward on the board,
changing the game to hope.
Laura Chalar is a poet, translator and lawyer from Uruguay. Her latest poetry collection is Unlearning (Coal City Press, 2018), and her latest short-story collection is The Guardian Angel of Lawyers (Roundabout Press, 2018).
fox-wily, guileless as guinea hens,
lightning-sharp, soft as damsons,
feathered and freckled with laughter,
rain-stormy with tears,
dimple the years, ages, oceans of culture,
with swallow-swooping vitality.
They peep, espiègle,
through columned hall, rackety kitchen,
or across the mud of a compound,
and beam, ageless as stars,
while we grub
through the tattered, drifting dross
of this week’s special offers.
Jane Dougherty is Irish, living in southwest France. She writes novels, short stories, very short stories and poetry. She has been published by Finch Books, Lucent Dreaming Magazine, Hedgerow journal, The Bamboo Hut, Visual Verse, Enchanted Conversation Magazine, and The Ogham Stone, among others. She posts poetry and stories athttps://janedougherty.wordpress.com/
The Chess Game: Oil on Canvas, Sofonisba Anguissola, 1555
“The art of losing isn’t hard to master,”
claimed Bishop, how we know for sure
she never played Spades at the cookout
or Uno under the backyard umbrella,
tensions leaping like wildfire pointe shoes
across cousin-flanked, granite tiled table
as Draw Fours stack to cursing yaps.
One on one: one must lose, the other wins.
How dull! A sole victor of many hopefuls
keeps the dance sequence fresh each round.
Quicker turns, new leads, frantic combos
coalescing in loudest love.
My family’s games call for tall group drinks.
Almost everyone loses, then everyone clinks.
Kyle Lopez is an American poet of Afro-Cuban descent living in Ridgewood, Queens. Originally from Montclair, New Jersey, his poems are published in The Boiler, The Acentos Review, Cosmonauts Avenue, The Florida Review, and elsewhere, and he has received fellowships from New York University and the CubaOne Foundation.
Sofonisba Anguissola. a lovely name,
spoke the Bishop as he sipped coffee
from a delicate cup, this the only vice
he allowed, he’d often been known to say,
and no matter the sin, he’d rather not be disturbed in it.
Yet, he agreed to see the lady out of duty
and the joy to be derived denying
most any intercession not handsomely paid.
This time, a painting, a gift, how kind, perhaps,
to turn the mind and heart of a cleric so well-known
as patron of the arts. Perhaps this a vision of saints,
the flaying of a martyr, or cherubs happily at play.
But not ladies at chess, not the game of kings!
She claimed: this might allow
some small surcease from sitting
stiff-collared and noble in the garden;
would help her sisters think about God,
the only master of kings. She swore,
would never cause excessive thinking on worldly pleasure.
Or the consequent headaches, Your Piousness,
that might foment abandonment of duty’s demands.
No, he roared, perhaps the coffee taking hold,
this is surely forbidden by writ, and the good sense faith commands
never to traffic in the image of man--only God’s proper work.
Then, added softly: Sofonisba Anguissola.
You have the faces, my dear, as he gently touched her face
and looked once more at her work,
but not quite the hands.
And here you find yourself with me
alone and adrift in a world made of hands.
Alan Walowitz (www.alanwalowitz.com) has been published various places on the web and off. He’s been nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2017 and 2018 and is a Contributing Editor at Verse-Virtual, an Online Community Journal of Poetry. His chapbook, Exactly Like Love, is available from Osedax Press, and his full-length book,The Story of the Milkman and other poems, will appear soon from Truth Serum Press.
Thoughts about Lucia, Europa, and Minerva Anguissola Playing Chess
Nearly five-hundred years have passed since the day Sofonisba Anguissola captured her sisters playing chess. A child prodigy, she was only twenty-three when she created this magnificent piece, one of many which establish her among the greatest Renaissance painters.
The firstborn of seven, with only one brother, Sofonisba is pictured here only in the gaze of her sister Lucia, playing a game generally reserved for males, with their sisters Minerva and Europa. All are dressed in the style of the day, high foreheads plucked and hair braided, and their virtue confirmed by the presence of a chaperone, perhaps a beloved guardian.
Were her sisters aware of her three earlier self-portraits or of the other family portraits painted before this? Not long after, were they familiar with her self-portrait showing her mentor Bernardino Campi painting a portrait of herself? Did Sofonisba share her delight with them when, in her twenties, she received a sketch from the hand of the elderly Michelangelo to copy and return for his guidance? Did they know that her paintings would, at times, be mistaken for those of Leonardo or Titian since it was presumed that a woman would not have such talent?
In her middle years, did they know of her service in the court of King Philip II of Spain, who arranged her first marriage, or of her second marriage, both of which ended childless with the death of her husbands? Did they ever see her portraits of King Philip, his first wife Joanna of Austria, his second wife Elisabeth of Valois, Prince Alessandro, or other nobles and families of the Court?
Did any of them live as long as Sofonisba and see her self-portraits from 1610 and 1620 when she was age seventy-eight and eighty-eight? Did they learn that the very young Flemish painter, Anthony van Dyck, visited her in 1624 when she was 92, for her guidance, which he entered in his notebook along with a sketch of her, and that he would also paint two portraits of her? And did any of them live to learn that many of her paintings from her court days were destroyed by a fire in the 1600s?
We aren’t privy to the answers for these questions, but we are privileged to appreciate Sofonisba Anguissola’s marvelous legacy.
Ken Gosse usually writes light verse with traditional metre and rhyme but has departed from the format for this ekphrastic challenge. First published in The First Literary Review–East, his poems are also in The Offbeat, Pure Slush, Parody, The Ekphrastic Review, and other print and online collections. Raised in the Chicago suburbs, now retired, he and his wife have lived in Mesa, AZ, over twenty years.
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