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Poem: "Squaring Off" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith
ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "Squaring Off"

This is the freebie for today's fishbowl session.  It was inspired by a prompt from kelkyag about chessboards in the park, which reminded me of Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr from X-men  fandom.




Squaring Off


Sundays in the park
with Erik and Charles
are always a challenge.

Erik is edgy without his helmet,
which is too conspicuous
for a quiet public outing,
and he won't let Charles
blur it from the minds of the crowd.

Charles is edgy on the rough pavement,
which makes his wheelchair rattle over the cracks,
and he won't allow Erik
to lift him smoothly over them.

Their honor guards fare no better,
Raven in her blond guise glaring
at Alex from over Erik's shoulder,
and Alex fidgeting with his shirt
as if wishing for his battle harness.
But at least this way
Charles and Raven, Erik and Alex
can see each other
and each know the other is all right,
for sufficiently lenient values of "all right."

Charles and Erik square off
at the chessboard,
tossing a wooden nickel to determine
who will take white or black,
because they have learned to admit
that they are equals in skill and --
while their preferences  differ --
each has borrowed from the other's methods
on occasion.

They speak little
but the air hangs heavy with intent
as the pieces move about the board.

Here, and only here,
they allow each other free rein,
Charles lightly sending his desired moves
and Erik manipulating all the pieces with his gift,
because politics and personal issues aside,
mutation is  still groovy
and both of them hunger for someone
who can appreciate the pure beauty of it.

Sometimes the games go quickly,
one of them devouring the other's pieces,
flickering through five or six rounds in a single outing.
Other times, the play drags out,
and they have been known to stall all morning
only to end in a draw at lunch time.

They play for the joy and the heartache of it,
because they cannot bear to stop,
to leave everything forever unfinished between them.
This may be the only place they ever see eye-to-eye
but it is better than nothing
and they have learned
to take what they can get.

They rarely get through an excursion
without someone causing trouble,
and it's rarely either of their parties at fault.

The snotty girl who calls Charles a cripple
somehow  trips over her penny loafers
to land in the mud puddle under the water fountain.
Charles rolls his eyes at Erik
and hides a smile.

The punk who slings anti-Semitic slurs at Erik
earns a sharp glare from Charles,
then suddenly asks the pig-tailed little girls
if he may join their game of jump-rope.
They let him in, to howls of laughter from his friends
who will never  let him live this down for the rest of his life.
Erik does not bother to conceal his shark-like grin.

At lunch time,
they shake hands over the board
before packing it away.
This is the only time they touch,
but they linger just that moment longer
before letting go.

They have learned
to take what they can get, and
to get what they can before it is taken away.

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14 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
e_scapism101 From: e_scapism101 Date: December 4th, 2012 09:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yes.
janetmiles From: janetmiles Date: December 4th, 2012 09:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
This just became head-canon. It's absolutely perfect.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 6th, 2012 05:24 am (UTC) (Link)

Yay!

I'm so happy to hear that.
From: siliconshaman Date: December 4th, 2012 09:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
New Head-canon accepted!

Really, spot on perfect rendering of the dynamic between the characters.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 6th, 2012 05:17 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>> New Head-canon accepted! <<

I think that is my favorite compliment, and I've gotten two of those on this poem. *glee*

>>Really, spot on perfect rendering of the dynamic between the characters.<<

*bow, flourish* I'm happy to hear that. The tension between them, you could stroke it with a bow and play music.
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: December 4th, 2012 09:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
:)
catsittingstill From: catsittingstill Date: December 5th, 2012 12:11 am (UTC) (Link)
It makes me wonder what is the game and who is the toy in this story...
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 5th, 2012 09:42 pm (UTC) (Link)

Well...

It's a many-layered thing, like all things involving Charles and Erik. Chess is a game, and yet it reveals things which are quite real; as a metaphor, it's among the more literal ones. They toy with each other, with themselves, and yet there's always a serious undertone; things they don't joke about. Either of them could take over the world if they wanted to -- these two truly are gods among insects -- and yet they don't. At the core of it, they do want the same thing, safety; and that's not something they play around with.

But they frame their common ground in the context of a chess game, because they haven't figured out how to do it without that buffer.
catsittingstill From: catsittingstill Date: December 5th, 2012 09:59 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Well...

And there's the implication is that each of them uses their powers to interfere with normals--in effect "toying" with them--to make the girl fall in the puddle and the boy play jump-rope. So there's that layer too.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 6th, 2012 04:31 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Well...

Yes, and they're playing by Charles' rules, as long as people are just being rude and not dangerous. Consequences measured to the level of the offense.
starcat_jewel From: starcat_jewel Date: December 5th, 2012 06:53 am (UTC) (Link)
Very, very nice. The bond of friendship is too strong to break; each of them wishes to convert the other, but will never walk away.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 5th, 2012 07:28 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>>Very, very nice.<<

I'm glad you like it.

>> The bond of friendship is too strong to break; each of them wishes to convert the other, but will never walk away. <<

Sooth. I'm not sure they quite realize how much of a pulley rig they've wrapped themselves up in, though, or that the more they pull trying to move each other, the closer they come together.
paka From: paka Date: December 6th, 2012 08:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
I have mixed feelings about this one.

My experience has been the nastier chunks of prejudice against the disabled and Jewish is always subtle (ramps that don't go in, being effectively told you're a second class citizen, etc.). But then there's still horrifying stuff out there - and the X-verse isn't necessarily ours. Maybe the frequency of people wandering up and pulling that crap is a lot higher in a world with the uncertainty of mutant mayhem, giant world-eaters and half-forgotten supersoldier programs.

I've often thought that the two mens' perspectives on being mutants are rooted in their minority status. Erik's obvious, but Charles comes from knowing that if you're patient and persistent, people start understanding and ramps will go in, busses will get lifts, doors will get push-buttons, etc.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 6th, 2012 09:25 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thoughts

>>My experience has been the nastier chunks of prejudice against the disabled and Jewish is always subtle (ramps that don't go in, being effectively told you're a second class citizen, etc.). But then there's still horrifying stuff out there - and the X-verse isn't necessarily ours. Maybe the frequency of people wandering up and pulling that crap is a lot higher in a world with the uncertainty of mutant mayhem, giant world-eaters and half-forgotten supersoldier programs.<<

If we're looking at First Class as a reference point, back in the 1960s people were a lot more open about many rude terms of exclusion. In general, the X-verse also seems more hostile to minorities in some ways. People will pick at each other. Put two minorities together, and it's a little more conspicuous, thus more likely to attract negative attention. Idiots looking at Charles and Erik could mistake them for safe targets, though they really ... aren't.

Aside from that, though, I have seen people make really rude remarks. Not so much recently, but when I was in college or high school, yes. When I was in junior high, I saw a "No Indians" sign in Rapid City.

>>I've often thought that the two mens' perspectives on being mutants are rooted in their minority status. Erik's obvious, but Charles comes from knowing that if you're patient and persistent, people start understanding and ramps will go in, busses will get lifts, doors will get push-buttons, etc.<<

Absolutely. That's a core difference throughout every portrayal of them. Erik's experience is that people will do whatever they want if not forcibly prevented; they will kill you if they can. Charles' experience is that people will cooperate with you if you approach them nicely; you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Both valid, but they don't mix well; and telepathy never seems to help Charles really get where other people are coming from, while Erik can't seem to grasp that not every situation is necessarily a war for survival.
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