“The Chess Player” by Phan Tien Duat

Phan Tien Duat


You were our village master at Vietnamese chess.

Now you play it Western style.

Rooks and knights and pawns look all the same,

Yet you lose at every try.

Somehow the bishop is not a bishop

And the king over there by the queen

calls up rules you should remember

and rules you should forget

on this odd board of strange moves.

So you lose but keep on playing

at Vietnamese and Western chess.

Look! Over in the garden a yellow butterfly

flaps along in unpredictable paths.

—Translated by John Balaban

from Rattle #21, Summer 2004
Tribute to Vietnamese Poets

Rattle Logo