Fiction / Sunil Freeman
:: The Rope-a-Dope Gambit ::
Joy Jackson had heard an occasional insult over the years, but never “This will be quick.” She’d seen the white boy and woman as they approached, stopping just a few yards from her. The woman, presumably his mother, said she’d be back, then something about dinner plans. The boy stared at Joy as the woman turned and walked away. Then he called back, more than loud enough for her and the dozen or more people who had gathered: “This will be quick.” She knew what he was thinking, saw it in both their glances even before he spoke: Black girl playing chess means an easy win. The assumption no longer surprised her. But the loud contempt? In front of so many people? It stung.
She had arrived at noon, an hour before the game was to begin. She liked to take in the sounds and rhythms of the city, clear her mind, and drift into an almost meditative tranquility before finding the sharp focus she’d soon bring to the chessboard. As good fortune would have it, the organizers had decided to play a few games at Dupont Circle when renovations had temporarily shut the old school building. The place was a mecca for chess lovers, in the heart of the city just a mile from the White House. It was a perfect blue sky Saturday right on the cusp of autumn, her favorite season.
A steady stream of people wandered through the park. Tourists peered at guide books and snapped pictures. Dozens of people listened to headphones, read books, talked with friends, or just relaxed on benches that circled the fountain. Farther back, almost to the road, a drummer played shifting rhythmic patterns on his array of plastic buckets. Pigeons flocked to the fountain or waddled around looking for stray crumbs of croissants, muffins, anything. Squirrels in trees looked warily at two unleashed dogs.
Joy had been there a week before after finding Mikhail Botvinnik’s One Hundred Selected Games just off the Circle at Second Story Books. She spent the afternoon studying analyses of games from the 1920s into the ’40s by a world champion who once taught future grandmasters like Kasparov and Karpov. Botvinnik had an engaging writing style and he generously shared his reflections on games with Alekhine, Capablanca, and other legendary players who had been his contemporaries. This alone was worth the price of a used paperback, but his book offered much more than a window into that distant era. Botvinnik deepened her understanding of the Ruy Lopez, Sicilian Defense, Queen’s Gambit Declined, and several other openings. She played some of them often; others she planned to try some day.
Reading Botvinnik, Joy felt connected across decades and continents to an enormous community, part of which had gathered right there in the city park. She saw classmates, her older brother Brian, some family friends who had come to show support, and a mix of acquaintances and strangers. Curiosity had attracted newcomers. They had heard the buzz about the shy, unassuming girl who was crushing most of her opponents, even beating some highly ranked adults.
People who got to know Joy saw her as an introvert, a quiet 13-year-old who did well in school, knew the staff at the public library, and was rarely seen without a book or two. Brian, a senior who played tenor sax at Duke Ellington School of the Arts, had always been the outgoing child, popular in and out of school. He’d gone from clarinet to sax five years before. The switch, when it happened, seemed preordained, as if he’d grown into his true self. He loved the instrument, practicing for hours and studying transcribed John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, and Wayne Shorter solos.
Some evenings he sat in with the old pros on jazz nights at Westminster Presbyterian. A pianist, after learning who she was, told her: “Your brother’s going places if he keeps at it like this.” That was the night Brian took a big solo on Charles Mingus’s “Better Get Hit In Your Soul.” The band was on fire, breathing life into the Biblical psalm’s commandment. They made a joyful noise that rocked the chapel, washing away, at least for a while, whatever worries needed to be gone.
Joy kept a low profile, happy to leave the spotlight to Brian. Introvert. The word, once applied, felt just right. She liked the image it conjured of a person comfortable with solitude; she wore it well. Brandon and Grace Jackson had seen their children grow in distinctly different paths, each finding a temperament that fit naturally. “I think you might enjoy chess,” her father had said on her ninth birthday. She was immediately hooked by a sense of mystery, the wonder of having such an ancient game right there in their home. Soon she was drawn to the complex lines of attack and defense, the many openings and tactics to study.
She loved the way her breath slowed, how stray thoughts disappeared as her focus on the chessboard sharpened, how she could feel her pulse beating as she planned an attack, then watched the meticulously plotted sequence of moves fall into place. She knew all too well the jolt of adrenaline when—too late!—she detected an unavoidable knight fork. Her heart pounded as she navigated around obstacles to push a pawn to the end rank where it would become a queen.
Sometimes it felt like she was gliding, a controlled confidence smooth as the Smokey Robinson songs her parents loved. Other times, a jumbled mess. All this powerful energy was driven and controlled by her mind. It was a bit addictive. As Joy gained confidence, she began to read about the great players and their historic games. New worlds opened for her to explore. Chess had become an inexhaustible gift with ever greater rewards the more she learned.
She joined the youth chess league a year after those first games with her father. Word began to spread about the girl whose well concealed traps caught even advanced players by surprise. At home, she now consistently beat him. Her mother did little to hide her amusement at this turn of events. “Who’s winning?” she’d ask, taking a break from grading high school writing assignments. He’d sigh, then offer a wordless grunt. It became a running joke, with Brian’s sax more often than not wailing counterpoint from his bedroom upstairs.
The Jackson family roots in the city ran deep. Their ancestors on both sides had come up from Raleigh, North Carolina in the latter part of the 19th century. Brandon’s father had been friends with Marion Barry since the days of Pride, Inc. That was a decade before Barry’s reign began as “Mayor for Life.” Long before all that went down went down. The nation’s capital had been known as Chocolate City, at times more than 70% Black, back in the day. Neighbors knew each other, shared a common history, and created a home-grown culture in close-knit communities that had forged tight bonds under the painful weight of legal segregation.
Brandon attended Dunbar High School and went on to Howard University, ultimately graduating from the law school. He had worked in labor law almost twenty years. It provided a comfortable home life when combined with Grace’s job teaching English to seniors at Dunbar. Not nearly as lucrative as corporate law, but more than enough. He was, as Grace liked to say, one of the good lawyers.
Brandon had imagined Joy would take to chess, sensed she’d be good at it, but had not anticipated what was happening. They enjoyed their games together, but both knew it was time to find more challenging opponents. Word quickly spread through the grapevine that Brandon and Grace Jackson were seeking chess players for their daughter. They soon learned about James Gilmore.
They looked online after hearing his name a third time. The Google search brought up articles in neighborhood newspapers, a feature in Chess Life, magazine of the U.S. Chess Federation, segments on local PBS and NBC TV channels, and an item in the Sunday Washington Post magazine.
James Gilmore was a Black man, about 50 years old, who lived and played chess at Dupont Circle, pocketing $5, $10, or more for a game or short lesson. It had been several years since he last had a permanent address. Lessons with James often consisted of him patiently analyzing the game that had just transpired, showing crestfallen opponents just how and why they lost. Many drove or Metro’d in from the suburbs, others from every quadrant of the city. He even played a few ambassadors, visiting dignitaries, and embassy workers from around the globe.
James had range. To maximize his income, he specialized in “blitz” games that lasted no more than 10 minutes. Dupont Circle was home to a subculture of chess hustlers who could beat almost anyone. James was simply the best. Unlike the others, he also played classic tournament-level chess in cities along the east coast. Over the years he had won two tournaments and he always finished among the finalists. Even highly ranked players who avoided the lively Dupont Circle chess scene acknowledged that James Gilmore was one of the best in the entire metro area.
Grace and Brandon read the articles and watched James play and philosophize on YouTube videos. One warm April day they boarded the Metro with Joy, destined for Dupont Circle. He saw them join the small crowd that had gathered to watch as he dispatched one opponent after the other. He finished a second blitz game, then beckoned them.
“We can forget about the game clock,” he said, surprising almost everyone. “Let’s just play.” He complimented her best moves. He stopped the game when she made a mistake. “Are you sure you want to do that? If you move there, I’ll do this,” playing out the next few moves. They played and talked for more than an hour. Chess talk, then reminiscence with her parents about the North Carolina roots they all shared, relatives who never moved north, then more chess. All the while a small crowd of impatient customers waited for their chance to play.
James refused their money when it came time to leave. “Nah, that’s alright. I’ve really enjoyed this. I hope y’all will come back.” The Jacksons intended to revisit the issue of payment at a later date, but they knew to defer to him on that first visit. They were on his turf. Though it was never spoken, they all understood that James had passed a test that afternoon, as had Joy and her parents.
The next week she returned with her mother. Instead of cash, Mrs. Jackson brought a generous portion of the sweet potato pie they had discussed at their first meeting, the recipe her mother taught her long ago. Mrs. Jackson’s sweet potato pie was an offer he did not refuse.
Joy’s parents didn’t accompany her the following week. Brian was eager to check out the chess guy he’d been hearing about. He brought his sax to try street busking after her session with James. They’d enjoy the afternoon together, sibling time out in the city. James spent almost an hour with her, stopping to explain a few moves as he had done before.
Brian saw his sister in a new light that afternoon. James clearly was the star, but people noticed how he shifted gears for her. How his quick staccato patter gave way to a slower, more reflective side they had never seen. The buzz spreading through Dupont chess circles had become: “Oh my God. He stopped the clock.” It was usually followed by: “Who is she?” Anointed by James Gilmore, Brian’s shy little sister was becoming a celebrity on Dupont Circle.
“I’m sorry. My parents asked me to do this.” Joy handed James a $20 bill at the end of their last game. “They said they pay for music lessons, so it’s not right for you not to get at least some payment whenever we play.”
“If they insist,” James accepted the money. “But please be sure to let your mother know how much I enjoyed her sweet potato pie. That was …” he paused, searching for a word. “I believe that was the best sweet potato pie I’ve ever had.”
“Should I tell her you’d like more?”
“Just tell her I liked it. Tell her I liked it a whole lot.” He said it to both of them like the words were music. Said it with a smile, so it was as if they were all in on a secret. James’s future definitely held the promise of more sweet potato pie.
Joy was relieved to have the question of money resolved. She had been nervous all day in anticipation of the conversation. “Well, I should be getting back to work. Good luck with the music. I’ll enjoy it while I play these guys.” James turned to face his new opponent. Joy and Brian found an open grassy area set back from the central fountain but near one of the sidewalks that bisected the circle. Brian put a donation box on the ground, assembled his instrument, and began to play. He cleared just over $60 in two hours.
Joy visited James almost every week after that, sometimes with Brian, sometimes with her mother or father. Every now and then they all arrived together to enjoy the chess and hear Brian play.
The power dynamics that ruled most aspects of city life held no sway at James’s small corner of the Circle. Some opponents came with no expectation of winning. They only wanted to enhance their bohemian hipster cred by playing the famous chess guy at Dupont Circle. For them, even a loss was a win. It was proof of authenticity, a prized nugget of personal information to slip into conversation at a party or on a date. He enjoyed those games. They were upbeat, albeit lopsided, win-win encounters where everyone left feeling happy.
Other opponents assumed their professional credentials (although not in chess), their gravitas, and their superior graduate degrees would give them the advantage over a slick chess hustler. He enjoyed teaching them a lesson. Some of them never got over the confusion, returning over and over. After his second defeat, one such man looked, for all the world, like he thought there was a glitch in the universe. As if he had stumbled onto some quantum physics mystery, a portal to other dimensions, right there on Dupont Circle. He couldn’t wrap his mind around the simple fact that James was a much better chess player.
One afternoon Brian watched as Joy and James settled into a leisurely game and lesson. He first asked about their parents, then how they were doing in school. They eventually started to play chess. As usual, a few people were waiting for their chance to play against him. James kept no schedule, had no appointment calendar. He chose how to spend his time just as freely as he decided his moves.
“We’re all waiting here and you’re giving her all this extra time. It’s not fair.”
The observation that “life is unfair” lands with special authority when delivered by a man who has no known street address. James had been on the losing side of “life is unfair” for much of his life. That wasn’t the only reason he loved chess, but it played a part. He recognized the absurdity of the moment as he spoke the words. The young man knew he had blundered. The rest of the group turned on him with eye rolls, glares, a “hey man, shut up” followed by “bad move, bro.” That set off waves of mocking laughter.
James turned away, leaving him to ponder the error of his ways. Smiling, he asked Joy: “What do you think? Life is unfair. Isn’t it?”
In all fairness, Joy and Brian were surrounded by material comfort, loving parents, music, chess, books, and home cooking. Still, they both had been followed by private security guards in stores. Their parents had given them “the talk,” the painful conversation about how best to avoid getting killed by trigger-happy cops.
Brian and his friends had been stopped twice in the so-called “jump outs,” plainclothes police jumping out of unmarked cars to stop and frisk folks who were just minding their own business. The people accosted always happened to be Black. The chief of police claimed the jump outs had ended long ago, but local news reporters found more than a dozen neighborhood kids who claimed to see them all the time.
Whom to believe, a bunch of children, some still in elementary school, or the chief of police in the nation’s capital? She spoke again to reporters when the evidence became overwhelming. People across the city easily saw through her attempt at damage control. The paraphrased gist of it: Oh, you mean those actions the children were talking about? Our vice squad sometimes does engage in law enforcement activities that could appear to be similar. But like I’ve already said, we no longer do jump outs. We discontinued the practice several years ago.
Driving while Black. Walking while Black. Breathing while Black.
“Yes,” Joy agreed with James, “life is unfair.”
The story of “Bad move, bro,” and “Life is unfair” was repeated dozens of times over the next few weeks, sealing its place in the shared common lore, the real people’s history of Dupont Circle.
“This will be quick.” The arrogant sneer from a kid who looked to be her age. Voice like a slap to the face. The charged silence held for a long moment. Maybe three seconds, maybe four. Her friends flinched. Some looked to her, concerned. She tensed, locking down the jolt of rage. She would not show him anger or pain.
Brian broke the silence: “We’ll see about that.” His voice commanded attention, not shouting like the boy, but loud enough for all to hear.
Watching it unfold, keeping a tight hold on her emotions, Joy thought it played out like a taut scene in a gangster movie. The foolish boy had lost the instant Brian spoke. Thank God he was there, and that her parents did not have to see it. Undoubtedly they would hear. The thought almost broke her. She blocked it from her mind. This was not the time.
Brian shot her a glance that turned into a sly smile, like they were sharing a joke. All eyes were on them. Then he looked straight at the boy. He waited two beats—perfect timing—and said: “This might be real quick.” He put the accent on “real,” stretching it out long and slow. Like what a saxophone might do with a cherished turn of a phrase. He smiled, then laughed.
People began to chuckle in anticipation; bursts of snort laughter sounded from the back of the crowd. Most everyone understood that whatever happened next, people would talk about this afternoon for years to come.
Watching the boy, who looked rattled, Joy thought of the old joke. Some people make things happen. Others watch things happen. And some people say: “What happened?” Brian had saved the day and set the stage. She was about to make something happen.
She wanted to smack him down so fast he wouldn’t know what happened. Throw it right back. “That was quick.” She guessed he knew to avoid the Scholar’s Mate, the classic four-move humiliation players suffer when they learn the game. It’s a sucker punch checkmate constructed with queen and bishop. Losing to the Scholar’s Mate is a rite of passage; few victims fall twice. Her father beat her once with the Scholar’s Mate four years ago. “You’ll win some and you’ll lose some,” he consoled her. “One day you’ll beat me.”
As Joy saw how her brother owned the moment, confounding the boy with a deflection of bad energy that played out almost like Tai Chi, her own impulse turned. She would act as if she barely understood the pieces, let alone forks, discovered checks, pins, and the intricate choreography of bishop and knight checkmates. She would parry his attacks, gauge his skill level, and calibrate her response. She would drag it out. Make it slow. He would struggle to control the game, grow ever more confused, then finally understand what was happening.
“We wear the mask,” Paul Laurence Dunbar wrote in 1895 of life as a Black American. His opening stanza:
We wear the mask that grins and lies, It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,— This debt we pay to human guile; With torn and bleeding hearts we smile, And mouth with myriad subtleties.
Playing the white pieces, the boy moved his king’s pawn forward two squares. She responded in kind. Then each moved one knight, followed by the other. She appeared to be mimicking him as the Four Knights Game took shape. It’s a perfectly descriptive name, four knights poised around two center pawns, each side mirrored by the other, from which to proceed.
She easily blocked his clumsy attacks, maintaining critical defenses but otherwise letting her pieces wander the chessboard as if they were out for a leisurely Saturday afternoon stroll. Pointless moves that did little more than take up time. All the while she playacted like someone unfamiliar with the game. She grew distracted, smiled as if remembering some old joke. Something her mother said that made her laugh. Sometimes she stared at the board, eyebrows scrunched up as if in confusion. Striking that pose, she looked as if she had never played chess, as if she couldn’t fathom how to proceed.
Some in the crowd were confused. Whispered queries were met with shrugged responses that said: “No clue.” Was this the same girl they’d heard about, the one who dominated her opponents? What the hell was going on? Some wandered off toward the traditional Bolivian group that had started to assemble. Guitars and flutes played hauntingly beautiful songs from the Andes. Joy closed her eyes to enjoy it, her mind seemingly miles away. The chess crowd thinned out as a few more opted for music or simply left to get on with the day. Others took their cue from Brian, who smiled as if he knew exactly what was up.
Just then James joined the group, nodding a silent greeting to Joy, Brian, and a few others. They quickly made room for him at the front. His arrival set off a ripple of hushed murmurs, whispers of “Oh my God,” and “That’s him. That’s the guy.” Nudges, glances, raised eyebrows. Even those who’d never heard his name caught the new charge in the air. James was here. He scanned the board, puzzled by the bizarre story it hinted at. He knew how good she was. He shot her a quizzical glance. Her smile carried just a trace of a wink. He half whispered to himself, “Well all right,” and stood back to watch what would happen.
“Never let them tell you he was just a smiling Black man, a great boxer, and everyone loved him.” Grace Jackson had been on a mission to counter the whitewashing of Black history ever since sitting through yet another bland mid-January program celebrating the I Have a Dream speech. Approved speakers never talked about the last two years of Dr. King’s life. People knew better than to recall him denouncing the war in Vietnam, condemning “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government.” The speech at Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, exactly one year before that terrible day in Memphis.
Ali was another courageous icon whose controversial past was rarely mentioned. Grace showed Joy and Brian pictures of him standing triumphantly over Sonny Liston. So ferocious. So young. The news film of him refusing to fight in Vietnam. The summit meeting of Black athletes stepping forward to support him. Bill Russell, Jim Brown, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, known as Lew Alcindor back then, Washington’s own Bobby Mitchell, and others. The years he could not box.
They watched When We Were Kings, the documentary about the “Rumble in the Jungle” between Ali and George Foreman. Grace described how Ali’s stature had grown beyond all imagining in the years of exile from the ring. After refusing the draft and paying a price for his stand, he was admired around the globe. Joy could barely watch the fight. She winced at the brutal body blows as he leaned against the ropes, taking the punches. She marveled at his steady flow of insults through it all. “They told me you could punch, George. That all you got?” Foreman, enraged and exhausted, swinging wildly before Ali stunned him, stunned the whole world. The eighth round knockout punch.
Joy settled into a defensive game, a chessboard rope-a-dope, minus the punishing battering. The insults were silent, but visible enough for James, Brian, and others to see. Even the boy might eventually understand. He struggled to gain the elusive advantage he assumed was his for the taking.
Joy allowed him to capture a few pieces but was careful to gradually win back more. She left a bishop undefended just to observe his predatory glee. She looked shocked when he greedily seized it. She planned a knight fork, simultaneously attacking his king and a rook. Then she pretended not to notice the well-placed trap for two slow minutes before gasping with surprised delight as she took the rook it yielded. She almost laughed at the thought of how desperately he must have hoped she wouldn’t see it. How he must wonder why his game couldn’t gain traction, why he was floundering against this girl who looked so clueless and nonchalant. They traded queens.
The game had stretched on for more than an hour, rolling along on a stream of meaningless moves. It was time to end things. Joy had enjoyed watching him fidget. She could sense him shifting first from confusion to annoyance, then concern and disbelief, which finally gave way to panic. The boy’s position was hopeless. He was down to one rook, one bishop, and two pawns compared to her four pawns, two rooks, a bishop and knight. A commanding lead. That was when he surveyed the board, put on a cocky smile, and delivered the second worst insult of the day: “Draw?”
“Draw” was the straw that broke the camel’s back. She didn’t even try to stifle the laugh. “Nah. That’s all right. It’s all good.” James cleared his throat loudly when she started to move a pawn toward the end of the board. She would not look at him. She advanced the pawn three times to become a queen. Next, the boy was forced to move his king when she checked it with her new queen. That’s when he lost his lone rook, suddenly exposed on the same long diagonal. Soon only his king remained.
Onlookers didn’t need to know chess theory, classic endings, or tactics to understand what the chessboard showed. Didn’t have to know the differences between kings, queens, and knights. Didn’t need to watch online superstars like Maurice Ashley, Tania Sachdev, or the Botez sisters. The rout was obvious to everyone but the woman who had just joined them, walking at a fast clip. She stormed to the front shouting: “We’re going to be late.”
She scanned the chessboard, then looked at the boy. “Just checkmate her already. We’re running late.” The laughter startled her. She looked from the crowd back to the boy, then glared at Joy. She stared at the board again. Ever so gradually, embarrassingly slowly, the woman began to understand that the white king did not belong to the Black girl. Her mouth still open, she fell silent.
Joy had locked a fixed stare on the board, refusing all eye contact after declining the draw. She picked up her next pawn and moved it forward. James cleared his throat even more emphatically. The boy’s king was reduced to aimless doomed moves. He appeared to be paralyzed except when physically moving it. Just another woodpusher stumbling toward defeat. He did not know how to resign to a Black girl who should have lost long ago.
Joy finally glanced at James. He shook his head almost imperceptibly, a beseeching look. He whispered two wordless syllables: “uh uh.” No. James knew all about chess players who needed to learn some humility. He understood that the boy deserved a whupping, and Joy had just delivered one. Now it was time to end it with a checkmate. This was not Judit Polgar teaching Garry Kasparov a lesson and exorcising (most of) his sexism. This was not Phiona Mutesi, “Queen of Katwe,” representing Uganda at international tournaments. This had become a slaughter.
Trapped by his own pride, the boy refused to resign, so Joy would have to finish it on the board. She wanted to crush him, wanted another queen. Maybe three queens. She wanted to make his king run around the board. But when she looked to James, he shook his head. Another queen would be overkill. Joy sighed, shrugged her shoulders, and conceded to his request. With a queen and two rooks, she didn’t even need to herd the hapless king to the side of the board. One rook on each side locked it on a single narrow file. She made the king walk one step in that corridor of shame. She ended it with her queen.
From the writer
:: Account ::
I played a lot of chess in my early teens, usually at the Boys Club in Silver Spring, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C. I wasn’t particularly talented, but thoroughly enjoyed the game. About 25 or so years ago I read about a very talented Black girl in her early teens. One day an opponent took one look at her and told his mother the game would be over quickly. The girl, appalled by the racist insult, decided to beat him slowly. I imagined the ensuing game would have played out in a very cinematic way. That one game, with background stories, the players’ family lives, etc., could have easily been a full-length feature movie. Making a movie wasn’t an option, but the incident also seemed ideally suited for a short story.
I’m not Black, but did feel a connection to the girl, just not by my limited skill at chess. My mother was from India, and my father was a white American. That’s a whole other story about young volunteers meeting at the Kurukshetra refugee camp in the time of India’s independence and partition. I’m often mistaken for Middle Eastern. On several occasions Iranians have assumed I speak Farsi.
I’ve had severe ankylosing spondylitis, a form of arthritis, since my teens, and walk with a cane. Between having a visible disability and being ethnically “other,” I’m well acquainted with microaggressions. Some people assume I must be stupid, or a terrorist. It’s annoying, and on rare occasions it’s frightening. Undoubtedly some personal experience came into play at the thought of a rightfully angry girl crushing and humiliating her racist opponent.
Several years ago I learned about Tom Murphy, the man James Gilmore is loosely based on. I wanted to honor people of extraordinary talent who contribute a lot to the vibrant life of a community. It felt like James should play a significant role in Joy’s chess life. It was important that her parents and brother should recognize his gifts and find a connection, across class lines, with him. It also was natural to bring local and national history, culture, and politics into the story. I always pictured Dupont Circle as the setting, so decided the fictional old building would be closed for renovation.
Watching the Queen’s Gambit series made me revisit and finally try to write the story. I was born in 1955, so was at the peak of my chess phase in 1968 when the series ended. It hit a lot of chords, reconnected me with a powerful and (mostly) joyful time in my life, and rekindled my love of chess.
Sunil Freeman’s essays have appeared in Delmarva Review, Gargoyle, Washingtonian, Jaggery, and other publications. He has published poems in several journals and anthologies, including Delaware Poetry Review, Minimus, Gargoyle, Kiss the Sky: Fiction & Poetry Starring Jimi Hendrix, and Full Moon on K Street: Poems About Washington, D.C. He has published one poetry collection, That Would Explain the Violinist (Gut Punch Press, 1993), and a chapbook, Surreal Freedom Blues (Argonne Hotel Press, 1999).