Scarcely twenty years ago, amazed,
we saw the way you played defense, attack,
and deftly wove, across a table glazed
with lacquer, over squares of white and black,
your brilliancies at fifty cents a game.
Armed with your own invented tools of math,
‘subjective probabilities,’ you came
racing upward on the corporate path.
As if another Hallam, though untaught,
you won the wonder and profound regard
of presidents and chairmen; and you caught
with gentle grace in every deed and word,
the hearts of all of us who worked with you.
It seemed there were no goals beyond your reach;
your science saw the future clear; you knew
the mysteries of chance, the price of each
insurance risk we took; but even you
could not foretell a truck would lean and fall
to crush your wife, inside her passing car,
and both your children. With their going all
your light, your morning moon and double star,
went out. You lingered daily in the dim
saloon downstairs, two brandies on the bar
before you; burned your suits and ties, wore slim
and faded levis at your desk. Your hair
and beard grew long, so gray and so untrimmed
we saw a sad Walt Whitman sitting there.
At last the powers read your purpose right:
you left your title, office, and uptown
apartment; took the street, slept where you might,
played chess for wagers, winning new renown
among the denizens of cheap cafes.
For then you knew, by probabilities,
and by the fog your checkmates could not raise,
how soon your longed-for dying would displace
your being’s burden and your soul’s unease.
Forgive me if to save your treasured name
I name with it these verses, which I know
have little chance of bringing you the fame
you should have won had chance not brought you low.