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Robert Haynes

After Move 37

 

1

 

The guests had come to escape troubles that didn’t

look like their own husbands and brothers,

their dogs, their dishes. The war happens far away,

where snow falls with knife-edged shrapnel.

Maybe they’ve seen the news. Maybe not.

. . . in the interview, the witness catches

her breath staring at the landscape and all

the space Chadds Ford can hide. I leave

the veranda to go inside. I’m watching

a re-run of Ancient Aliens and want to believe

we are benevolent beings. Our Skywalker, our

Leia and Obi-Wan have fought our battles

in a galaxy far away from Chadds Ford,

far from the hillsides that hang like artwork.

 

 

2

 

Russian missiles strike the ashes of Chornobyl

long after the power goes out. Even the artist

in his studio remains the unfortunate nobody

with nothing to say. If the news is fake, plenty is

left to praise along roadsides lined with refugees

leaving town. They take nothing but a husband’s

smile, a mother’s hug. They walk away, each

in a different rush. Where they go, no one knows,

not even the aftermath, pregnant with its hush

creeping beneath the unspoken shadows.

 

 

3

 

Numbed by running, the man’s daughter sees

the house on fire. Her husband, the mechanic,

leaves the dishes, photographs, and the sweater

hand-knit by a grand-aunt. Books and letters,

the Bible citing marriages and births, quilts,

the hall clock, the china thrown to the floor.

 

 

4

 

The silence breaks—15 minutes ago, a campus alert.

The witness said dark-skinned, said a gun or a knife.

said the light was bad. Said he acted alone. Said

the light made him stumble. The witness said

nothing else, except herself hunkered in a hallway

trying to hide. Said the knife flashed red under

an exit sign as if a god had pointed to the way

out. Said the world within a world listened

for footsteps. Said the Internet, said footsteps

clicked as if browsing. Said Facebook. Said TikTok—

said it was a distraction from the Crime Alert,

said YouTube. Said puppies, said kittens. Said

the clicking down the hallway got closer…

 

 

5

 

The guests write a review for the AirBnB

on its website. They describe their view

from the veranda over the lake. They write

about the cozy wicker chairs, the awning

overhang, over which hangs a branch

for a heron to perch. It’s early March,

and a robin in the ginkgo tweets its song

into the lake’s algae bloom. All the inedible

fish look up at the heron’s blue wings that are

readied for flight. In time, the bird will arch

from his perch, awakening a rash of ripples.

But for now, the guests have nothing more to write.

They bundle their baggage into their Volvo

and start their 6-hour drive back home.

 

 

6

 

The happy ending of that story, if ever, is years away.

The AirBnB recedes into a memory of Keuka’s

manicured vineyards, as if painted by Wyeth or

one of his sons. Rolling hills and stone-walled

lanes paint the road. The guests, a gay couple

newly married by a law, also suddenly new.

My mother used to say Ain’t young love grand?

but I wonder what she’d say of the newlyweds,

of the two middle-aged men in their reverie

exploring dark places. I rub my eyes to erase

some unspoken embarrassment. Said Snap out of it.

I almost say it aloud as if someone from another

world let out a cry from so far inside me that

my voice rushed up from another body—as if

from a fairytale where brambles wreck the castle.

 

“Move 37” refers to the second game of the historic Go match between Lee Sedol, a world champion Go player, and AlphaGo, an AI developed by Google DeepMind, in which AlphaGo made a highly unconventional and surprising move on the 37th turn. This move, later dubbed “Move 37,” was considered a brilliant and creative play that no human player would have thought of making.

 

 

Room on the 7th Floor

 

Well shit, of course, men will

flee with Trojans in their backpacks.

Of course, drapes will smell

of whiskey. She’s heard the stories

of claws & cats & epochs

belonging to cats, claws

ripping at a dress.

 

She’s been here before.

After she hauled her bags

to the seventh floor,

after the drapes lulled her

into the midnight clawing

through the window,

& she’s where she once was,

drawing a traverse rod.

 

She lays her cash down

on the table as the dealer calls

Place your bets. & she remembers

the man vanishing

back into his game.

Yes. That man. That night—

but not this night.

 

 

Megalomaniac’s Déjà-vu

 

Haven’t we been here before—Just look how little

has changed since God had his big date with that girl,

the night he got her pregnant, without foreplay,

without a condom, without asking—no dinner, no movie—

then leaving her without alimony and only a mangy

worn-out ass to ride overnight into a backwoods town

where no one knew her, and she slept in the barn smelling

of goats and donkey shit. He came down on her

like a big shot grabbing her by the pussy, immaculately,

and got away with it. He was famous and she let him do it.

 

Just look how little has changed: “My Body, My Choice.”

A tipping point, ready to tip, needs more revenge,

maybe half a million pink hats on The Mall—pink

placards, pink banners—shouting into the PA box

where a man who would be God, could be thinking

a bitch is just a bitch. He wants to decree an orange

embryonic, gold-plated bastard will be carried to term.

 

 

What Passes for Talent

 

—for Paul

 

When Jane called to say you had died,

I thought about the conversations we had

on the phone. That time we talked about

the Chinaman found on a raft off Brazil—

 

The fishermen who found him had stories:

One said he believed what he saw:

93 pounds of the man cooked to a blister.

Another said the stench was foul.

The third tasted only salt from the ocean.

 

They argued about what kept him alive.

Was it sugar cubes & lures he twisted from hemp?

Had he been inventing gods and praying to them?

You were convinced that he dreamed

of standing at the door of a lover

who played the piano—

something by Mozart—sweetly.

 

 

Robert Haynes lives in Seneca Falls, New York. His poems have appeared in North American Review, Nimrod, New Letters, Poetry Northwest, Rattle, Bellingham Review, Lake Effect, Poet Lore, Cimarron Review, Natural Bridge, Louisville Review, and Louisiana Literature, as well as on the Verse Daily website. Poems have also been reprinted in the anthologies Cabin Fever (Word Words) and Kansas City Out Loud (BkMk Press), and in the poetry textbook Important Words (Boynton/Cook Heinemann). His latest book is The Grand Unified Theory (Paladin Contemporaries). He currently teaches online writing and visual rhetoric and poetry workshops at Arizona State University.

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