Chinese Chess Masters - Doug Johnson

This week's photo represents several "firsts" and contains a special treat. "Chinese Chess Masters" is one of the first photographs I took at my first workshop. It is also the first image of my first project -- "Hands" -- taken a year before I even realized I had a "Hands" project.

But more importantly, this is the first image that inspired a poem. Most of my photographs have a backstory (one of the reasons for this POTW series) but they're usually my stories because I was there and took the picture for very personal reasons. Occasionally, however, a friend will share their own interpretation of a particular image and my favorite, by far, is this response to "Chinese Chess Masters," a perceptive and melancholy poem written by James Raff -- one of the kindest, smartest and most thoughtful people I know. I'm pretty sure you'll enjoy it as much as I do. Thank you James!


Chinese Chess Masters

Chinese Chess Masters

(by James Raff)


His thumb and umber fingers

Rest on the yellow wood,

Inscribed as the red king.


        I moved my hand

        along your neck, pale as a swan's,  

        promising to send for you.


Three veins divide upwards

Like thousands of rice plants he thinned

Before coming here, now in dry cleaning,

A boss who cheats him in overtime.


        This piece is the curved willow of your back,

        as graceful as I remember on the night

        we plucked hasty words from the harried, unforgiving sky.


He loses this game, and the next, and the next,

Pays out every dollar from the mattress in the sixth floor walkup

Where he keeps the brass-keyed cedar box - photos,

A lock of hair, a faded card, a ticket not for an airline,

But a pawn shop.


        Now, years pass. I meet you when the sun rises on the other side of the world.

        I long to leave this place and be where your hands would touch me,

        your eyes would answer, you would roll my sleeve against the cold.



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