Sport 36: Winter 2008
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.
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.
A couple lie embracing in Memorial Park,
In the middle of bare acres of grass. To the side,
In the corner, are the pillars of the war memorial,
Where one of my sons carried the colours
Of the Sea Scouts forward one Anzac Day.
This much is real. What can't be seen
From the windows of my car, or from any
Turning from or into Fraser Street, is why
Any of this should take place. And by now
The couple will have picked themselves up
And departed. The leaves on the central boughs
Of the planes on the Devonport Road side
Are yellowing prematurely. The reason is
(There was a reward of fered for information),
They were poisoned by someone wanting a view.
These days are hot. The grass browns,
Wastes, the sun hurts on the skin, burns
At the flesh, my children cover up
To go out, the thin earth shrivels, dies.
What's there to praise in the outdoors
Now? Who would choose to eulogise
Nature—ours or this? Instead the sweat
Beads on the forehead, the brain stinks.
What's there to do? Change our habits,
Install air conditioning, call the kids in—
The practicals take care of themselves.
It's the ideas of life that are perishing.