Antiphony: Shayla Lawson after Lorna Simpson

A new poem in response to Lorna Simpson’s 2013 video piece ‘Chess’

by Shayla Lawson

All stills: Lorna Simpson, Chess, three-channel HD video, 2013 © Lorna Simpson

Can you play yourself

depends on the opening
depends on the cross-fade wig
depends on the stiff white pawn
depends on the zip-up stiff of a white shift cute
depends on the bent wrist mute (think).

depends on your opening.
depends on your opening (mo,ve) move
depends on the length of your konk
depends on slick-black bloc
depends on the window pane suit.

Can you play me

depends on the sick-back keys
depends on the five-point scale
depends on the bent-five chord, on its rival echo
depends on        if we mirror.             a nation
depends on         how much we                         confederation.

depends on the en passant.
depends on the thief in the rook                  of your neck
depends on the knight’s               first feel in the bishop’s close; it
depends on the what that king might know.
it depends on the who’s your queen.

Can you really play yourself
depends. how many castles you give to discredit my memory.

Can you really play yourself?
How long can you play yourself

Who wins.


Shayla Lawson is a New York-based poet and serves as writer-in-residence and chair of creative writing at Amherst College. Lawson is the author of A Speed Education in Human Being; I Think I’m Ready to See Frank Ocean and the forthcoming essay collection This Is Major. Her work has appeared in Tin House,, The Offing, Guernica and Colorado Review, among others.

An exhibition of Lorna Simpson’s work will be on view at the Rennie Museum in Vancouver, opening in February 2020.