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Sport 36: Winter 2008

The Maori Chess Champion

The Maori Chess Champion

A balding man, grey hair cropped close
To his sunburnt scalp, proclaims
Via his T-shirt, 'Life is a bitch,
Enjoy her'. His wife, under her mask
Of make-up (guessing at the relationship),
Looks weary. When they leave—
This is a hotel breakfast, on the beach
In Bali—their place is taken straightaway
By a young couple. The woman,
Exquisitely shapely, wears a shift
Of cheesecloth over the briefest of bikinis.
I used to smoke, but now I loathe
The pale envelope that drifts from others
Over me. Between mouthfuls, she stands
Her knife and fork vertically on the table.

In Scotland I met a man who told me,
However it came up, that he was the Maori
Chess Champion. Some years before,
Maybe as many as ten, he'd played
And beaten another visitor who
Claimed to have that title. Rarely
Playing since, not losing,
He'd kept the continuing honour.
And I knew a girl once, attractive,
Whose mother had told her in seriousness
That she was sitting on a gold mine.
She meant, I guess, that she
Should aim to travel, not sell out
To first-comers or, as it were, too cheaply.

page 190

What is it holds civilisations together?
Tony talks in terms of a nation's
Propaganda. The United States, he says,
Has freedom; Thailand, where he lives,
Respect. But, he adds, people turn
Cheats and liars, and the outcomes
Don't always resemble
The promise of the words. On the way
Back to my rooms, through
The lush, immaculate hotel garden,
I notice I do not recognise the birds.
In Beijing, so someone said who's seen it,
They counterfeit the bags—the branded
Carrier bags—and hawk them on the street.