Martial Arts Movies
Michael Chaney

Zooming in on You took my father's sword, you burned down my village, and I never thought a body part could look so fake and chirp so much like wood, leaping up into the universe, tall twists of bamboo dropped from heights, clapping to floors stretched snare-drum tight to catch the load: call it, "A Cacophony with Hummingbird." Hatchet raising, kicking, blazing faces, amazing even if filmed backwards, the jumps make those MC Hammer pants bonfires or flags, as fighters perch woods, becoming gaudy ornaments decorated with a fury that swords the light just so. And there's always that sound: the first tone you hear when you finally get the wine glass to sing for you. Then, wine glasses shatter as do bones and mothers, rickety tables and chairs at the tavern, delicate things behind glass, (neither bulls nor cowboys allowed in these shops), so that when it all breaks you hear it with steel, forged in an oracular whose gravitas survives the beautiful inanity of dubbed speech, courtly nonsense en translate: "For the things they have shattered here, they must be made to pay." And because the world is full of beloved things that shatter and because you were not strong or fast or flying enough to stop the world, you will train. Never as good sincere as it is en mockery res, training is burning animals at the wrist to catch a pebble from a falling Water Lilly before a stout fool with a triangle for a hat shoots another acorn at your wings, worn to stumps by the frosted nights of the training hut and hardly roused to a flutter by the sight of gruel in a dirty pan, bitter nourishment for wings that quiver to scratch the itch of vengeance, which is all that makes you hit that pallet with your bloody fingers over and over or carry the water pails on your back up that hill to balance the world on a tight wire made of the Master's braided hair, crackling with tension beneath your cloven sock. You do all of this without even opening your Atlas eyes to finally block the Master's shuriken, piercing the wind almost as loud as Xu Shen's crying for his murdered parents, a crying so loud you have to turn the volume down when it happens. After, you take the prize and wear the sash and burn the insignia and recite the pledge and drink the blood and draw the maps and put on all of the faces: the old woman by the side of the swamp, a ghost with smears for eyes, the fruit seller with Fu Manchu whiskers as long as your arm and a laugh loud enough to veil a strike; all of these ride along bloody vengeance and sweet revenge, dutiful, honor full, an honorable path, pathos, pathological. Next: more killing! Killing for the kill of it and also for the dance of it, when a hundred circle one and wait their awkward turn, sure to overplay their chance for all the waiting, and for all the wood snapping, the killing and the churning of killed and killing faces, and for all the wood-popping legs. Every enemy is an honest Pinocchio in robes. There's seven horses, five Samurai, four men who die cringingly and slow, two intense women saying hmmph, and two guards surrounding, one on either side. The one at your back throws three shuriken. You duck just in time as the one at your front raises his staff to crown you in the face. You time the duck so that all three stars retailor the buttons on his robe. Gratis to the secret style or weapon, that spinning jenny of a sword that unfolds silence to make a lance, or that laces up the sky with a silver flying orb that blooms into a comet of razors—the sound of them up close, glass bottles rolling down an empty hallway. And after, more treetops bowing under the weight of pensive killers in silk. Philosophers of murder prefer to rest on strange conifers as the wind launders our robes of blood. And it is ours and not theirs despite being steeped in the spectacle of the Other. The docility you see in the shopkeeper, his obsequious breathing and bowing, or the pert hmmph of the sister, none of that belongs to anyone other than you, bold as audio, the fallout of splintering wood just then like summer rain and just as suddenly

Michael Chaney lives in Vermont. He has stories in or coming from Michigan Quarterly Review, Harpur Palate, SmokeLong Quarterly and others.

Detail of still derived from Menahem Golan's ENTER THE NINJA (1981).

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