The Wargamer

Bending the mapboard back
Unfolding Waterloo,
His fingers sift the stack
Of counters pink and blue
Into opposing groups
Of abstract cardboard troops.

Each corps, each division,
As the rules plainly state,
Must with great precision
Be placed to emulate
A history without gore,
Art of the art of war.

Wholly absorbed in play,
Indifferent to the end,
A master either way
To attack or to defend,
He doesn’t have to care,
Playing solitaire.

At Quatre Bras to start
Ney battles on the heights,
Dice and combat chart
Decide the bloodless fights
In cipher-saying grim:
“A-back-2.” “D-elim.”

The dead pile grows all day,
A pink hill flecked with blue,
As Wellington gives way
And the Old Guard crashes through
Leaving the board to win
Deep in the dark Ardennes.

And so the gamer’s drained
By carnage on the hexes
Where fantasy is pained
By nothing stark that vexes,
No bloated human meat,
Historical defeat.


David Middleton
from his book Beyond the Chandeleurs
LSU Press, 1999

Used with permission of the poet and special permission of LSU Press.

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