Feckin Sale

Posted on Saturday, December 31, 2011, under ,

After spotting the sign I simply had to get into the shop, located in the heart of Kyoto’s shopping district. Whichever profit-minded skull dreamt the sign up certainly does not dream of Stevens’ ‘baboons and periwinkles’. And, judging by the goods (the leopard-patterned leotards, skirts, scarves etc), the clientele (twenty-something flirts donned in kindred mini-pants and platform shoes) and the glittery atmosphere (jazzy brightness, shop assistants pacing frantically about, Sex and the City playing in the corner), neither does the sizeable portion of Kyoto youth.  

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Christmas Somniloquist

Posted on Thursday, December 29, 2011, under

A Somniloquist

Christmas Eve, near midnight.
The room has fallen silent,
swallowed up by darkness
save for my make-believe face
lit by the laptop light.

I’m half-way through an article
Chinese Taking the World by Storm
when a sudden voice fills the room:
Let’s go out and play!, it says.
I know well where it came from.

I turn round, you’re fast asleep,
your faint-pink, chopped lips
briefly parted by something
dreamt, which shaped
that plunging sound.

The next morning you tiptoe
to the window, draw
the curtains to the bitter fact:
the urban roofs intact,
circumvented by snow.

December 25th, 2011

© Branko M.

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You Are Now Leaving Iraq

Posted on Monday, December 19, 2011, under ,


Who would’ve thought that a conversation about poetry could give you an answer about weapons of mass destruction!
                                Charles Duelfer, CIA, in National Geographic: Interrogating Saddam (2010)

Iraq, the country he ruled and ruled
as his ‘personal torture chamber’,
has scaled down to a dim prison cell –
his personal torture chamber.
Here, as a former ruler of Iraq,
here he lives on borrowed time,
is brought meals twice a day
is allowed to read books
is lent an ear to his war poetry.
But they are not interested in his poetry.

They are desperate to wring out
a couple of answers from him. Just a couple.
A simple yes or no would do.
Are there weapons under the Iraqi sand?
Is he friends with the sectarians?
He keeps shtum. He keeps reading,
keeps writing his war poetry.

The interrogator tries to win his trust.
He does. George Piro befriends him.
He even renounces a hunger strike for George’s sake.
But still he keeps shtum. And writes poetry
no one is interested in.
The weeks and months wear on.
The time is running out. Under pressure,
under immense pressure,
George Piro finally breaks down
and decides to pay attention to his poetry:
his writing style, his use of metaphor.

It is a metaphor of rifles and swords –
a figure of speech that he used
to scare off the hostile neighbour –
which brings on the truth, yet not a pardon.
It makes the world pause to think:
what if he never made that speech,
what if he didn’t have
‘a very unique way of writing’?

© Branko Manojlovic, 2011

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The Night Hitch Died

Posted on Monday, December 19, 2011, under

I am not making this up. Friday night I dream I am in this large farmhouse kitchen, a bicolour cat in my arms. She is old and ailing. I think she is dying. I place her inside a wicker basket then completely cover it with a white hand-crochet lace. I place the basket on the kitchen cupboard. I am satisfied the moggy will die peacefully in here. I turn round to find Christopher Hitchens sitting at the dining table, legs crossed, a glass of what might be bourbon in his hand, lost in thought. I don’t think he says much, if anything.
A few days pass. Or perhaps weeks. In dreams they can do. I am back in the same kitchen after being away god knows where. Maybe just round the corner tending on sheep and pigs. I notice the basket is still sitting on the cupboard, covered with the same crochet lace. I walk over and remove the cover. The cat is still in there, barely alive. Fur dilapidated. One eye closed. She is breathing. I am instantly overcome by guilt. In dreams one can be. I pick the feline up and try to force-feed her milk but she coughs it all out. Then I notice Hitch, sitting at the table in the same disinterested way as before. This time Hitch talks, says something, but I now forget what. Maybe he jokes about the cat, how it always has been a fussy eater. Maybe he says how death is overrated. At this point the dream starts slipping away. I struggle to stay inside. In vain: as the sunrays tickle my eyelids Hitch seems to have had enough. I think I can just catch him getting off his chair and slowly walking out of the room, into the morning brightness.

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A Find

Posted on Sunday, December 11, 2011, under

Imagine you have walked numerous times past a parking lot near your home for the past six or seven years. Just cars, cars and empty spaces. How boring. Then, one cloudy Saturday morning, on your way to a nearby restaurant, you notice something is different, strange. You realize the car park isn’t there any more. Instead, there is a fence which looks it has sprung up overnight. Suddenly your curiosity is awoken and you take interest. You stop by this new fence, and raise yourself up on your toes to take a better look (you don’t believe you are actually doing this).

The sight, however, is totally unexpected: the cars are gone, the car park is no more. The tarmac itself skimmed off from the surface of the earth like fat from the cooking liquid. All that’s left is the brown patch of earth which has somehow extended to the size of a football pitch. You can even see a few people milling about, apparently taking photos (!). As far as you can make out there is nothing to take snaps of, apart from the flat, square blocks of land, a few lunar-like ‘craters’ and a few longish trenches that give the place some sort of coherence. You must find out what the hell’s going on. You walk round the long fence until you reach a white tent which has been placed at the improvised entrance of what must be, as you begin to suspect, a brand-new archeological site. Soon enough you are handed an A3 size paper with the whole detailed explanation. Alas, you are unable to read the characters, and you do not speak their language very well. So you take a walk around the site, you take a photo or two and when, finally, your curiosity gets the better of you, you start looking for someone to speak to. The choices are limited. You turn to a couple of elderly gentlemen whose animated conversation and their outer appearance – tweed jackets, specs, rucksacks – leads you to suspect they could be knowledgeable or even speak English. As it turns out, you are right as far as their familiarity with the goings on. They tell you in their language (you ask them to speak very slowly) the place has been found to be a thousand-year-old settlement, or rather a group of houses which used to be part of an affluent neighbourhood in the ancient city of Heian-kyō.

The city in question, of course, is present day Kyōto. The Saturday in question is yesterday, December 10th, 2011. The patch of land does exist and has been dug up apparently by the students from the Bunkyo university. Its building is soon to be erected on the very spot (imagine the conservationists canvassing against it and collecting signatures for an ill-fated petition). The site, as my photo attests, is nothing to write home about, yet it should look remarkable to people who have lived for years in the neighbourhood. It is rather exhilarating to know that one thousand years ago here existed a community of aristocrats, and imagine their powdered faces and blackened teeth, their painted eyebrows, their shiny black hair, their multi-layered robes displaying seasonal colours. Imagine walking along a narrow Heian street in the moonlight, and sighting a woman who, having nothing better to do, is watching the shadow of a pine branch, imbued with the sweet futility of existence. 

            A woodblock print from 'One Hundred Aspects of the Moon' by Yoshitoshi

P.S. Today, Sunday, the site is already off-limits! Talk about the world of impermanence.

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Socrates vs Socrates

Posted on Tuesday, December 06, 2011, under , , , ,

As of yesterday, December 5th, 2011, if you googled ‘Death of Socrates’ the top couple of results would not be about the famous Greek, but that of a Brazilian football hero: Sócrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira. For those of us who grew up in the early 80s playing footy in the park or the nearest parking lot, the mention of Brazilian Socrates inevitably brings back memories of one irretrievably lost sporting era when football (and most other sports) could indeed be a beautiful game, when creativity on the pitch and loyalty to clubs and fans came before financial gain. Just watch the Brazilian side on youtube at the two World Cups – Spain ’82 and Mexico ’86 respectively – the improvisation, the risk-taking, the ball-control, the whole team one well-oiled machine made up of free-spirited, individual talent. Mind you, not as individualistic as that Greek team in Monty Python’s Philosophy Football sketch (in which Socrates of all philosophers scores with that masterly diving header!).

Little did we know, those of us living outside of Brazil, that Socrates the footballer (also a qualified medical doctor) was politically active, playing a very prominent role in dismantling the Brazilian military regime, which eventually collapsed in 1985, and helping to bring in democracy and prosperity to the masses. This he did by forming the Corinthian Democracy Movement in the early 80s with the aim of spreading the powers of majority rule:

"Corinthians were a superb side at the time, winning the Sao Paulo state championship in 1982 and 1983, and their blend of stylish, attacking football married with the political campaigning of Socrates and his colleagues captured the imagination of many. To spread their message the Corinthians Democracy Movement emblazoned the clubs kits with political slogans on match days, and huge pro-democracy banners were erected at their Pacaembu stadium. The movement also attracted the support of artists and intellectuals, as the political left latched onto the power of football in spreading the message for change. In 1982, despite warnings from the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) not to interfere in political issues, the Corinthians Democracy Movement agreed that the club would take to the field in shirts bearing the slogan “Vote on the Fifteenth”, urging Brazilian citizens to make their voice heard in the upcoming elections."

So, what do two Socrateses, the Athenian and the Brazilian, apart from their name, have in common? A few parallels (however historically unverifiable): both men were physically strong and vigorous; both were courageous – the Athenian as a hoplite war veteran, the Brazilian as a political activist as well as the on-pitch adventurer; both strove towards achieving a fairer society, albeit by the apparently opposing, or at least different, means – the Greek had issues with the Athenian democracy of his time, mistrusted the majority rule (paradoxically considered as probably the first ‘free-speech martyr’) and was rather concerned with the moral and intellectual betterment, ‘welfare of the souls’, of his fellow citizens, whereas the Brazilian Socrates was a champion of the poor and the underprivileged; and judging by their actions, both men in their final hour faced death without much fear or regret: the Greek accepting, even welcoming, the death sentence, the Brazilian apparently a victim of his bohemian lifestyle. Whatever the parallels, straight or reverse, both men, as poet Kathy Evans Bush might say, acted like human beings. Curiously enough, she takes another Greek, Nestor, ‘the grandfatherly blabbermouth’, when she cooks up a poem from Nestor’s ‘point of view’ about yet another athlete (a coincidence?), LeBron James. The poem is called ‘The Iliad’, and the final lines go

Pro teams used to practice in
The gym where I taught high school.
Chamberlain, Chet Walker, Jerry West,
I saw them all up close and in truth
The only one who acted like a human
Being was Tom Boerwinkle so let's have
A poem contest for the man from Tennessee!

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