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January 2019, vol 14 no 4

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Ruth Wiggins


Wednesday, hills paler than I'd pictured. Magpies, not golden. Samsung. Vuitton. Our guide, Oyunaa, already chiding. My lack of truck with things that delight her. The way she ribs me, we are old friends already. She introduces her city, says not to run when crossing. To walk as she does, zombie, blase. The whole city can be grasped from this vantage, heavy in its bowl of mountains. Blue Sky, spectacle heart, nonchalant barkeeps. Power stations pumping their applique. On Friendship Hill, a ragged eagle. Columbian dancers. Blue spandex, cut-away tummy panels. We trudge up to the monument with the high school students. The great cement discus hovers over the city, Soviet and Mongolian cosmonauts heroically rendered. A blonde starlet in Pan-AM grip shoes; a nomad feeding her infant, tessellated breast a perfect circle. Doves and floored Nazi banners, the historic moment. In the streets below us, boy racers with swastika seat covers.

removed for battle
the bright earrings of the queen
wait in a tangle

From here, a multi-storey with a rooftop ger. It wears an Ursa Major icon. Seven stars in a disc plus the pole star's asterisk. Down on the street, a Disney dwarf – Happy, I think – has a sign that reads Toyhauzz ushering shoppers in. The seven stars must be dwarves, Snow White their single asterisk. This city is the coldest in the world, Oyunaa says. Come the long white months, sleeps in a blanket of smog and snow. Hi-ho, welcome to Mine-golia. In the hotel room, next to the hairdryer – two respirators packaged in foil, seventeen years out of date. At the State Department Store where all needs are fulfilled, biodegradable bags exhort us to love our Mother Earth. In smaller print – inform the police! our discounted prices are crazy low! Copper souvenirs on fifth. Apples are non-native here, but the little berries of the sea-buckthorn make a recognisable logo.

the eternal knot
of heat and want and whatever
the ground has got

Downtown, the bronze poets on benches and pedestals. Each wearing an overcoat. Zorig too, the People's Golden Swallow (not magpie, the book was wrong) stands near the Lego store on Seoul. His long coat and spectacles, a touch of sorrow. Impossible for the sculptor to un-know what's in store. Across town at the monastery, seven thousand small gods in coats against the weather jostle on temple shelves to ensure the Boddhisatva. Oyunaa steers us into a deserted restaurant, fist bouncing on the table bell. A little boy appears, asks in perfect English, did we 'ding-dong' for food? He brings us noodles.

inside his long sleeve
the king's bracelet slips freely
the good horse canters