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Sport 42: 2014

Morgan Bach — Performance

page 246

Morgan Bach


You can hold your own

In blue and green lights the diplomats,
water babies, are churning up the dance floor
as we cruise the harbour, with the impossible heights
and neon of Tokyo encircling us. The ship grey and flat, enclosed
and sleek like a ray, dreaming of the future.

My old friend, now an attaché,
is telling a Cuban official stories of our uni days,
but not how we’d roll her car down Aro Street
to start it, or how we’d flirt with the men who crashed
in our lounge, and go hungover to exams.

I bite into something
that tastes to me like the metal
and sweat and salt of a
young man’s armpit.
I discover it is fish.

I want the Hungarian barman.
I like picturesque men.
My friend says he’s asked her about me.
My shame can’t disembark
quick enough, when I realise her trick.

What is it about diplomacy
that makes her want to misbehave? page 247

The next day she’s in meetings, performing,
while I ride the synaptic efficiency of the metro
where no one speaks and faces crack no smiles.
I’m prickling with obedience, want to beg them just to laugh.
No one is even reading. It’s explosive as a tomb.


I had left winter somewhere over the Pacific
and emerged into dense September in the city.
Like a thousand threads we wove lines
across the square that isn’t square
but gaudy and close as a half-opened flower,

its geometry swarmed by a rush of people
that somehow do not touch or tangle.
The man ahead of me in a football shirt emblazoned
with summerislust is on Team Optimist,
a free-lover on the Shibuya crossings.

The sky is invisible above
the multi-coloured fire of living billboards
turning every street corner
into a sauna of exhaust and J-pop.
Is infatuation the right word

after seven years? Almost every thought
I’d wanted to tell him, every amazing thing
I’d seen, and now this. I crave his audience.
Why, with so many in the world, is it his ear
in another country I want to catch?

page 248


Hungover, I emerge into the clutching humidity
of Yoyogi Park, walk past the homeless
men with their books, the endless cawing of tatty crows,
past the young men posing as sleeping satyrs at the fountain
to the Meiji Shrine. Too hot today for weddings.

I walk the avenue of trees, through the gate
formed of barrels of Burgundy wine
here for consecration, in accordance with the emperor’s
taste for Western modernisation
and a fine red, like all sensible men.

Oh Tokyo, I think I like you
but I didn’t like the bouncers
who offered young girls to our male friends
as we walked from bar to bar last night
and the Australian bankers

with women hanging off them
like pretty human bunting.
At the shrine,
I am offered nothing
but incense.

The Tower of Maman

I am floating above a world that does not spin.
Glass encloses me and, relieved of vertigo, I can lean
into it. The dusky city, blurring below, its buildings
tall and straight as a forest of pines.
The numbers are hard to conceive. page 249

I could get away without looking squarely
at myself. But as night filters the sky
of its warmth, hidden inks appear
and small fires pop to life in the haze
below, there I am in the glass between.

At the base of this tower I found her, Maman
the great spider, crouched and accusing.
I’d seen her years before in London, by the thick
moving river. She stood here on her spindles
while another clutch of millions

passed under her as through an arch.
I imagined hers was the voice in my bones
saying you’re still lying—still you think
love is a performance. The black ropes
of her legs twitched in the shifting heat.

She knows it’s in our blood to abandon
what’s closest. I stood under her, a poor shelter
from the beating sun. If she could weave me
a cocoon, it might guarantee transformation
or the silken embrace of an end.

The Fox Women

He had told me there were two kinds of women
with power in their transformations:
painted geisha, untainted as warm-blooded statues
and his favourite, the kitsune, fox women
with many tails and guises and a tendency

to run—he’d assigned me that title too.
At their mountain shrine, in the tunnels of arterial red
I felt like I was walking into a body, ready to shed
page 250 my coat for love or something like it. To taste
and trick, turn and scatter lives.

I am tender and sweating so hard
I must be tinder dry at the core.
Passing amongst their guardian forms,
I recall some have mouths of fire
and some can suck the life from you.

When dusk falls, I hire a bike to glide
along Kyoto’s streets hunting the other
kind of women, the ones that never sweat.
They emerge from screen doors
and walk in steps so small they float,

apparitions in the seam-like streets. I ride,
camera in hand and pretend I’m not here to catch
their unmoved porcelain faces. But I need to see
them, these women who can choose to live in a different skin,
who can make a performance of love

of their lives.

The Mountain

There is a woman in heeled sandals
with pencil thin legs, and a dachshund
on a leash. Both optimistic
and cruel to make a dog that grounded
climb a mountain.

The climbing seems simple, instinctual,
like the way people have always paired off
around me, as easily now they climb.
There are hundreds of us, moving slow
as rewinding lava. Halfway up I realise

page 251

I never wanted to do this. My legs are weak stalks,
the sap moving thickly.
The mountain is all shale and dirt,
some broken moss. When I turn around
to give up, the sky stares back.

I stop and let my heart calm, kneading air
into my blood. It will set the pace as my cells change
shape, turning oval with altitude. Crying children
hold out their arms like bridges to their parents’
resolve. The elderly are pacing through the last miles.

Success is impossible to pick. Young men vomit and fail,
turn back. I’d wanted him for a long time
and now he was lost to me again.
My lures and loopholes sewn open
with words had failed. My foxhole

where I could hide out the war was gone. I’d turned good
men away because beautiful unfulfilment is the armour
I don’t want to put down, and I’d have betrayed
them in a second if he’d stood again before me.
He was what I deserved. But she has him.

At the summit is a vending machine
and a crater, deep and hollow. I am higher
than anywhere at home. The mountain fans out,
its skin red and grey. Green fields and lakes blend
at its edge. Clouds big as cities I could step into,

bailing out of reality. I walk around a while,
wondering when I should decide to leave.
The sun is low as I start my descent. I’m ahead of the pack,
sliding on shale. Soon enough
I realise there is no pack. page 252

The locals are in cabins at the summit
waiting for dawn. I’ve no choice now I’ve turned
for the descent. Silence, except for my feet
dislodging small rockfalls. Every step
sounds giant in the stillness

and though I’m tiny, I’m the tallest thing for miles.
I have a pole to brace myself, sliding.
The moon arrives, turning the mountain red
and raked. The path is barely visible
but lightning on the horizon is all the whip I need.

I bargain, unbelieving, talking to the dark.
If you let me descend I will drop this armour, this skin
and offer it to Fuji for safe passage.
I give him up, the trophy of my emotional celibacy.
The prize is to survive alone.

Out of Time

My friend and I take the liquid route
up the beach, skirting rocks; the black
sand scalding to our pale soles
feels like home, though even hotter
in this Japanese summer about to turn

to autumn. We left our things
near some guys with tattoos,
maybe yakuza maybe hipsters, I don’t know
how to tell. It’s the last weekend, and again
I’m going home to things I’ve given up.

You could stay, she says, swimming. We’ll have a faux
civil union. You always wanted to marry
a diplomat. Salt floods our laughter and I think
page 253 no matter where you are the sea tastes of tears
and I have no choice but to go back to my harbour.

Up the beach we rush across the sand, leaping
from burn to burn, and wander in the shade
of one stall to the next, two six-foot women
like strange creatures washed from the water,
my squid skin hanging on to winter.


After the embassy party
two Kiwi girls in kimono
are doing the gaijin
smash, talking drunkenly
on the ride home.

There is a sign
in the window of Freshness
Burger, staff wanted.
We eat at 2am
one of us through tears

the other explaining
to the unnerved staff
with utter fluency
that we’re both fine
in our disguise.