Jakarta, July 20, 2013
Flares sizzle, hiss, and menace angry orange,
smoke pours from mouths of pounding fireworks,
and the chants and rants of frantic, unison youth
rumble and split the sticky fog of sweat and fumes.
On the pitch, men sprint and kick, give rise to frenzied
shouts of hordes ringing round, hordes bearing flames
and song and acrid incense, their lives tied to shoelace
and spikes in the muddy earth. We sing and we see
the spectacle heave before us.
We are part of all we witness.
We only wanted cheap seats;
we only entered on a whim—aliens to two nations,
outsiders wanting only to know some new thing, but
marked so strongly by buhle skin that dozens came—
humbly with grins and cell phone cams to ask a pic.
Mister, they bow, mister a picture, and again the grin.
so we crowd and smile for the snap. Our alien hands
embrace—across skin, across language, across lives
divided by spheres entire—what do I know of these men but
these smiles? And then a flood of brights and tripods
and TV cameras come, now the mic and white light
and black lens and the questions begin: Why you
came here? Who you cheer for? We smile, say
all too politely we came to watch a match:
We wanted to witness this life.
We’re ashamed to be favored solely for our skin
in a ring dripping with talent unnoticed, untried.
Released, we weave our way through mazes and haze
of T-shirts and frying foods, caps and noodles, horns and
rice, scarves and steamed dumplings. We shirk the
scalpers with VIP seats: we want cheap—spots in the stands
and the heat and the chants, where flares burn and eyes
sting and throats crack from hours’ shouting through smoke—
while on the pitch men sprint and kick and spend themselves
for the joy of a host on a foggy night in the tropics, where four
foreigners come for the game but witness
the flame and the smoke and the zeal spilling
over, impromptu pictures with the populous,
and the boundless life bubbling within all.
I don’t remember goals scored that game—
only the unison voices deep into night’s heavy
clouds, the sting of sulfur in my eyes,
and the boy who had me sign his shirt.