Saving face with Grandpa and not being huffed

by Roger Elkin

I catch him hovering at our lounge doorway,
face beaming though something behind his eyes
suggests he’s not certain where he is, or whether
he should be here, his mind silent-film-flicking

for names, his lips teasing words around shapes
in a hesitancy belying ninety years of his tackling
things head on and giving no ground to getting old:
till, Draughts, Grandpa? You’re black – and he

makes straight for the board’s chequered territory
of dare. Once settled in his usual chair, he’s all
kept breath and concentrated energy while he
puts his strategies to work: that ruse of losing

one piece to jump my two; or the leap-frogging
zigzag across the squares as he deftly pincer-picks
my yellow-white discs. And I can’t help thinking
his men know every winning move, their kingings

assured in his surety of game-play. He’s good,
and knows it, though I grudgingly convince myself
some of his skill is the stuff of years – after all,
he is last century … Then comes the final steal:

his triumphant run, jack-jumping with a clacking
accuracy that removes two, three, four black kings.
He laughs his little laugh, Like life! It’s just a game.
Best in both worlds, you know, not being huffed!

I squirm – not at his jibe, but in pretence of another
loss. (Recall, this time around I’m white, he’s black.)
And wonder whether it’s guile, forgetfulness, or age
that defines the ritual behind his saving face …

In draughts, when a player does not take an opponent’s piece (either deliberately or by failing to see it), the piece that could have made the jump is huffed, i.e. removed. To be huffed is the adoption of a resentful or piqued mood usually as a result of someone else’s behaviour.

Roger Elkin’s poem “Saving face with Grandpa and not being huffed” came first place in the 18+ poetry category as part of our 25th Birthday Writing Competition.