Playing Rook


Great Aunt Evelyn taught us to breast our cards, slant

from prying eyes, and manners—leave the card where it lies

until the dealer’s sign; and when we felt delight

with our success in taking the bid, how quickly she’d surprise

us with a run of trumps and tricks. We were not eased

into losing to her black-hatted squint—her brutally kind

lessons often spurred us into whines, but the hands grew gradually

gentler, and we played ’til she went blind.

“Playing Rook” seemed like a good poem to record—it has a nice mouthfeel. (I’m an audio novice, so please forgive any sound quality issues.)

This poem sprang from an exercise in the Sharpened Visions poetry class on Coursera (mentioned in a previous post). The conceit was to use another poem’s end rhymes. I chose Emily Dickinson’s famous poem “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.”

Tell all the truth but tell it slant

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

My goal was to maintain the rhyme while not mimicking the sing-song rhythm. I took Emily’s cue to emphasize the long “i” sounds and added short “i” sounds as well—as internal rhymes and slant rhymes throughout. But I also worked with her short “a” from slant and gradually—manner, black, hatted, hands. I also notice “u” sounds of “uh” in the first half and more “oo” in the second.

I am quite satisfied how this exercise came out. The lines run through my head regularly, which seems to me to be a good sign.

P.S. Happy Birthday to The Mother. Consider this your birthday present, Mama! 🙂


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