Tomas Tranströmer: “Allegro”

Tung PIng Chau Cliff Face TWO 2016

It sometimes seems to me that the world is made up of two kinds of people: a majority in love with the “rule of law” and the exercise of absolute power (it’s nice to have someone strong do all the thinking, and most of your feeling, for you), and those who prefer to see the flawed human spirit shine, especially unexpectedly and when it appears that all else is lost.

“Allegro” is a poem for the shiners. It was included in Tranströmer’s 1962 collection Den halvfärdiga himlen, a title that translates as “the half-ready Heaven”. I take it that what Tranströmer means here is that it is up to us — the human beings — to finish it off. Clearly, too many of us have understood “to finish it off” in completely the wrong way.

(Incidentally, the image of “half-ness” reappears in the wonderful title poem which ends with the lines:

Var människa en halvöpen dörr
som leder till ett rum för alla.
Each and every human being: a half-open door leading to a room for all.)

Defiance is generally coupled with anger. A joyous musical defiance is a rare thing, but the poet manages to make it make sense. He sits down to play at the piano after a “black day”. This may refer to his work at the Roxtuna center for juvenile offenders, or it may have to do with the state of the world. As he writes in “Lamento”:

För mycket som varken kan skrivas eller förtigas!
Too much that can neither be written down nor kept quiet!

The music at once changes the temperature of his mood: using the wonderful compounding property of Swedish, he writes of “driving his hands deeper into his Haydnpockets” before hoisting the “Haydnflag”, an image that suggests that he has reached the most triumph section in the composer’s allegro movement. The only hint of violence in the poem — on the part of those resisting — is in the strokes of “the mild hammers”, musical hammers incapable of inflicting the lightest wound.

The tremendous final image of the intact glass panes echoes the closing words of “Lamento”:

Malarna sätter sig på rutan:
små blek telegram från världen.
Moths settle on his window-pane: / bleak little telegrams from the world.




Jag spelar Haydn efter en svart dag
och känner en enkel värme i händerna.

I play Haydn after a black day and feel a simple warmth in my hands.

Tangenterna vill. Milda hammare slår.
Klangen är grön, livlig och stilla.

The keys are willing. Mild hammers strike. The sound is green, lively, reposed.

Klangen säger att friheten finns
och att någon inte ger kejsaren skatt.

The sound insists that there is such a thing as freedom, and that there is someone who pays Caesar no tax.

Jag kör ner händerna i mina haydnfickor
och härmar en som ser lugnt på världen.

I drive my hands deeper into my Haydnpockets and play the part of a man who can look the world calmly in the face.

Jag hissar haydnflaggan — det betyder:
“Vi ger oss inte. Men vill fred.”

I hoist the Haydnflag — what this means is: “We won’t give in. But want peace.”

Musiken är ett glashus på sluttningen
där stenarna flyger, stenarna rullar.

The music is a glasshouse on that slope where the stones come rolling, come crashing down.

Och stenarna rullar tvärs igenom
men varje rutan förblir hel.

And the stones roll right through it, but leave every pane intact.


Perhaps for a second or two, by the end of this poem, we are lifted along with Tranströmer’s music to a point where we sense, briefly, what invincibility might feel like for a human being. The question is: What could we learn to live from there?

For Robin Fulton’s expert translation of “Allegro”, please visit the official Tomas Tranströmer website.

Photograph: 香港東平洲 Tung Ping Chau, Hong Kong

Cantonese through News Stories: African Swine Flu Closes Hong Kong Abattoirs

Capture_African Swine Flu_13 MAY 2019

After the terrible SARS epidemic of 2002-2004, any occurrence of 瘟 wān1 or “epidemic” in Hong Kong is sure to strike terror in the hearts of many local people. Earlier in the year, the remains of a pig washed up on a beach in Cheung Chau caused consternation, but tension levels rose this month with the discovery of Hong Kong’s first case of African Swine Flu. This report, again from TVB’s 何曼筠 Hòh4 Maahn6 Gwān1, focuses on the response from the pork industry, who tried in vain to persuade the government not to destroy the 6000 pigs at the Sheung Shui Slaughterhouse.


12 new words:

個案 go3 ngon3 = a case (of some disease) (measure word = 宗 jūng1)
銷毀 sīu1 wái2 = to destroy (an animal)
屠房 tòuh4 fòhng4 = slaughterhouse; abattoirs
撲殺 pok3 saat3 = to kill; to exterminate (?)
業界 yihp6 gaai3 = industry; sector
商販 sēung1 fáan2 = small retailer; pedlar
買手 máaih5 sáu2 = buyers
生猛猛 sāang1 máahng5 (máahng5) = full of life
宰豬 zói2 jyū1 = to slaughter pigs
戒備 gaai3 beih6 = to guard; to take precautions; to watch out for
車閘 chē1 jaahp6 = main vehicle entrance (?)
銷情 sīu1 chìhng4 = sales (?) (lit. = “selling situation”)

*For jyutping romanization, you can cut and paste any Cantonese vocabulary in this post onto the Sheik Cantonese website ( for checking.



Hong Kong has seen [出現 chēut1 yihn6 = to appear] its first case of African Swine Flu.

Continue reading “Cantonese through News Stories: African Swine Flu Closes Hong Kong Abattoirs”

Thirteen Swifties • Why I Am Not a Christian . . .

Yu Jian Image_25 MAY 2019

i. Zoological

Why can’t we be
less “human”,
more lifelike?

ii. Summer Missionaries (Fanling 粉嶺)

Watching like a cat
through the shadow of a doubt,
how could she know
her delicate freckles shiver on her cheeks
when Elder Taylor
and Elder Love
speak through the heat
of their beautiful,
beautiful, bearded Jesus Christ?

iii. Capped Crusader . . .

There at the lights
Batman holds hands
with his anxious,
plain-dressed father.

iv. Excrement

No body seems to mind the turd in Saturday . . .

v. From a Between-season

Still Winter sun:
a Painted Lady spins in circles
of itself each insistent, flowering
bush, warming — unleashed —
with starbursts of butterflight
stone cold blood.
And, where a kangaroo rots . . .

vi. Roadkill

. . . blowflies dance in the raw.

vii. Vic Market Limbo

louder than their names
smash jokes
like beer bottles
against the in-your-face stench
of the bins.

viii. Why I Am Not a Christian

I only want to live once
and for all.

ix. Aftershocked

Crimson rosellas —

they hit the glass at breakneck
breakneck speed, dead
for ever in an instant lasting

x. The Firm Grasp (Hands on the Ropes)

They call it a dream
because you can’t hold on
to any of it, and although
you are “there”, widely awake,
how much can you make it
your own? Very little.
Life escapes you, at once,
in every instant, unless,
somehow, you allow it to touch you
in all your force —
like love.

xi. Language Barrier (Human Passions)

I could see he was making a move towards me
so turned off at the cross-roads.
I didn’t speak his body-language.

xii. Skew-whiff

(Funny how we can’t stand silence,
specially when it happens in a human being
close to us.)

xiii. The Sky is Blue. So is Murder

How far do we have to go before we come back to life again?


Photograph by Yu Jian

Cantonese through News Stories: Public Consultation on Animal Cruelty

Capture_Animal Cruelty_25 APR 2019

Ever wondered what a “grey area” was called in Cantonese? The answer won’t surprise you: it’s 灰色地帶fūi1 sīk1 deih6 daai3. Unfortunately, many of these still exist in the realm of animal cruelty, so it is a fine thing that the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department is trying to strengthen law enforcement in order to reduce maltreatment. In this report from TVB’s 陳逸思 Chàhn4 Yaht6 Sī1, there’s some useful vocabulary related to the keeping of pets as well some interesting grammatical points involving a special use of 就 jauh6, the noun-suffix 者 jé2, and a helpful specimen of the sentence-final particle 啫 jē1 in 我唔小心啫.


12 new words:

1. 殘酷對待動物 chàahn4 huhk6 deui3 doih6 duhng6 maht6 = cruelty to animals
2. 飼養(動物)jih6 yéuhng5 = to keep as a pet; to rear
3. 瘧待 yeuhk6 doih6 = to abuse
4. 寵物 chúng2 maht6 = a pet (animal)
5. 棄養 hei3 yéuhng5 = to abandon (a pet animal)
6. 照顧 jiu3 gu3 = to look after; to take care of
7. 膳食 sihn6 sihk6 = meals; diet
8. 甚至 sahm6 ji3 = even to the extent of
9. 授權 sauh6 kyùhn4 = to authorize
10. 危急 ngàih4 gāp1 = critical; desperate (juncture/time)
11. 拯救 chíng2 gau3 = to save; to rescue
12. 於是乎 yū1 sih6 fù4 = so; therefore

*For jyutping romanization, you can cut and paste any Cantonese vocabulary in this post onto the Sheik Cantonese website ( for checking.


It is understood that, starting from tomorrow, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department will hold consultations with the general public about revising [修訂 sāu1 ding3] the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance, strengthening the power of authorities to report/take legal action [報法 bou3 faat = ?] and to punish [刑罰], and suggesting that the maximum [penalty] be ten years’ imprisonment for people who treat animals with cruelty.

Note: The common character 就 jauh6 has an interesting use in written Cantonese, one that means “concerning; regarding; about”. It precedes the verb that it co-ordinates with:  就 . . . 諮詢公眾 = will hold consultations with the general public about. Also, 者 jé2 is commonly used to make expressions equivalent to “a person who does; a -er”. Next, observe how 開起 hōi1 héi2 is used after time expressions to convey the item of “starting from (a particular time)”.

漁護署 is short for 漁農自然護理署 = Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department

Continue reading “Cantonese through News Stories: Public Consultation on Animal Cruelty”

“Kwan Yin” by Ainslie Meares (1969)

Tai Tseng Wai Koon Yam

香港横洲大井圍天后古廟 Tin Hau Temple in Tai Tseng Wai, Wang Chau, Hong Kong

Ainslie Meares (1910-1986) was a well-known Australian psychologist with a particular interest in the use of meditation to relieve pain. Among his many books, there is an unusual work with the title Strange Places, Simple Truths, a collection of short prose pieces about his travels to various parts of the world in search of knowledge about alternative approaches to pain. Although Hong Kong is not one of his destinations, the book ends with a short text about the author’s very personal connection with the place.

Ainslie Meares (1910年至1986年)係一名知名嘅澳洲心理學家,對於以靜修達致舒緩痛楚嘅方法特別感到興趣。喺佢眾多著作當中,有一本頗為獨特,名為《陌生國度,簡單真相》,係一本小品集,講述佢遊歴世界各地,尋找處理痛楚嘅另類方法。雖然香港並唔係其中嘅目的地,但係該書最後一篇寫到作者同香港擁有十分獨特嘅聯繫。


Since I first started to write about these experiences, I have wanted to say something about Kwan Yin. But somehow it has seemed too difficult. I think I have fallen in love with her, and that of course makes it hard.

It must have been on my first visit to Hong Kong. In a curio shop I found a beautiful stone figure. This was some time ago, and then I did not even know the name of the lady who has come to steal my fancy so completely. She was standing at ease, about two feet high, clad in the flowing drapes of the classical Chinese, and with that mystique of expression which communicates the indefinable. I knew I had to have her. I bargained and bought her. And since then she has stood on the bookshelves in my study.

When one falls for a girl, a single picture is never enough. On my next visit to Hong Kong I spent the whole of my time in search of another. Do not be mistaken. Do not think of the hundreds of factory made figures of Kwan Yin with which the shops abound. No. My lady is not like those. The fact remains that each time I have been to Hong Kong I have come home with a stone figure of my lady. It has become a family joke.

One of the strange things about her is that she was originally a man. He was a Bodisatva, one who has attained Buddhahood, a kind of saint; and his saintliness was concerned with the depth of his compassion. Bodisatvas are always rather sexless. Perhaps all that is spiritual within them leads to something beyond sex. Then with the spread of Buddhism from India to China, Kwan Yin became worshipped as a female deity. It may be that compassion is an attribute of woman rather than of man. People think of her as the taking-away-fear Buddha. To Europeans she is known as the Goddess of Mercy. I know nothing of China, but I have seen her worshipped widely by Mahayana Buddhists in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan.

Ainslie Meares c.1974_8 MAY 2019

Ainslie Meares, Melbourne, 1974 (?)

I have found my stone image brings with it a sense of beauty and repose. But more than this, there is such a sense of mystique that it seems to have captivated me. So I continue my search for another. I have searched around the dust of old shops in narrow streets where such things are sometimes found. I have sought her from lush curio shops of the great hotels, where the Rolls-Royce and the rickshaw wait outside. One very hot day there was an old rickshaw man squatting on the foot-board of his rickshaw as is their custom while waiting for a passenger. He was very old. He was half asleep, half in a stupor. He was a worn-out man; his body almost gone, his mind insensitive to the noise and bustle that was all about him. I had just bought half a dozen mandarins to take to my hotel room. I quietly put one by his side, but he awoke from his stupor, and his eyes looked at me. Then arms stretched out from all directions, and I had to be off. Then, by strange coincidence, twice in the next few days I saw an old rickshaw-man wave to me. It was he again, not asking for more, but still bowing his thanks. And he seemed stronger. Strength that could not have come from my miserable mandarin.

In my search I have passed women in the briefest mini skirts I have ever seen, women in the traditional garb of the Chinese, women in rags, women like Chinese film stars with neat dresses and trim figures. And women with chubby babies strapped to their backs, and women with emaciated children begging for a few cents. I have been to shops where they would discuss nothing until I was seated on a china stool, and had had a cup of green tea. In others they cared little if I came or went, and in some their anxiety to sell me something spoke of their need of basic necessities. A thousand times I have asked ‘Kwan Yin, Kwan Yin’. But they could not understand my pronunciation. ‘Goddess of Mercy’. But they could speak no English. So I have rummaged  around their shops. I have examined hundreds of stone figures of Kwan Yin, but none has had the strange quality of the first one which I so happily stumbled on.
喺我尋覓嘅過程中,我經過身穿短到冇得再短嘅迷你裙嘅女人。我亦都見過穿著傳統服裝嘅女人,衣衫襤褸嘅女人,穿著稱身衣裳、身材苗條像中國明星般嘅女人。另外我又曾經見到孭住肥嘟嘟啤啤仔嘅女人,同埋抱住瘦蜢蜢細路仔嚟乞錢嘅女人。而且,我去過好多間舖頭:有啲要等我坐低瓷櫈仔上飲完一杯綠茶先至問我想買乜嘢;有啲服務員對我都漠然不關,愛理不理;而有啲,好似要賺錢養家過活,所以急於賣嘢俾我。我到而家已經喺舖頭講過「觀音,觀音」過千次,但係佢哋無法聽明我嘅發音。用「Goddess of Mercy」亦都唔得,因為佢哋唔識英文。攪到收尾我喺佢哋舖頭裏面揾嚟揾去,曾經仔細咁觀察過好多好多嘅石制觀音雕像,但係都揾唔返好似第一次偶爾揾到嗰座咁、擁有特有嘅氣質——遇到第一座嘅運氣未曾重複。

I have sought her through all the turmoil that makes Hong Kong one of the most fascinating cities of the world. Through the bustle of it all; but no jostling, no pushing, that is not the way of the Chinese. Through the smell of narrow streets, where the stench of it would be enough to stop my breathing. Passed beggars who made worse their deformities, and those who sat in the gutter quietly awaiting death to take them. Passed old men who looked as if they knew what it was all about; passed women whose gaunt eyes told that they had learned to accept what it was. Stepping over gutters of filth and children. Passed police whose impassive calm and efficiency makes them some of the finest in the world. Groups of jabbering tourists on their world cruise bent on buying junk from the Kowloon factories. Children playing in the streets whose widest horizon is the gutter of the next alley. And through all this nobody interferes. And it goes on late into the night. Women and girls come who would lead me to another love, but my desire is elsewhere.
香港嘅凌亂令佢成為世界上最為吸引嘅城市之一,而我正正喺係呢種凌亂之中去尋找觀音。雖然人多混亂, 但係當中冇人擠湧,冇人撞你――推撞唔係香港華人嘅風土習慣。我又經過氣味難聞嘅狹窄巷仔,要忍著唔透氣。我又行過急於討吃嘅乞兒,其中有啲故意將身上殘缺畸形嘅部分整得更加嚇人,又見過另一種乞兒,佢哋粒聲唔出坐喺坑渠旁邊,好似等待死亡嘅來臨。另外,我又經過洞悉世故嘅老伯,經過眼神空洞且呆滯嘅婦女,見到呢啲眼神就知道佢哋已經接受現狀,聽天由命。我亦大步跨過污糟邋遢嘅坑渠及其週圍嘅細路仔。又經過冷靜無情嘅警員,佢哋嘅高效水平令佢哋成為世界優秀之列。又經過一班班嘰里咕嚕嘅外國遊客,佢哋坐郵輪嚟香港,一心想買到九龍工廠粗制濫造嘅產品。又經過喺度玩緊嘅細蚊仔,佢哋嘅生活範圍唔可以離開呢度至下一條橫街窄巷嘅坑渠位置。冇任何人會企圖改變呢啲狀況,種種嘅凌亂會一直繼續到夜闌人靜。呢個時候,女人同埋少女們會出現喺我面前,佢哋想將我帶進另一種愛情,不過我所渴望嘅係喺別處。

And now I have several stone figures of my lady-love. They are all different, each reflecting the craftsman’s own idea of the nebulous quality which finds expression in the concept of Kwan Yin. But as in life, none has the same mystique as the one which first so captivated my fancy.

White Rainbow

2017-11-27 Creek near Sacred Tree 2

At first sight, it was all blue morning right to the top of the sky,
but then I glimpsed
at the edge of my field of vision like a towering cliff
a stiff, slow wall of fog.
I turned my back and shrugged,
being far too dry in my habits by now
after days and days of relentless Summer scorch
to be in any good humour for such vapour-caper.
After breakfast coffee
we took the dogs out in their energies for a walk in the cloud —
the sun was our only light at the end of the tunnel —
it was just rising over Pete’s back dam,
a bleak disk eclipsed by too many smoked-glass filters.
Along Quartz Chip Hill
it rained a rain too fine to feel, a nimbus rain
that maddeningly could never moisten one single growing thing.
We followed our loyal pilots with their curious, quivering tails
up a claw-pitted kangaroo track through emerald coffee bush —
spiderwebs everywhere made droplets into jewellery —
then let gravity pull us irresistibly down the slope
in the direction of Jung Road,
deserted, dead-ended, one-house street.
Without warning, the fog began to vanish into thin air,
taking with it something of my personal mental fog,
and there in its place, suspended wide in the West
was a technicolourless rainbow. We recognized at once
the distinctive broad arch —
perhaps one of triumph over powers that plague us of indistinctness —
but were shocked at its failure
precisely to achieve all the colours of the rainbow.
As far as promises go, it was decidedly a weak one
that left acres of room and to spare for doubt to move in
and yet the paradoxical novelty of its albino plainness
was, in a way, a kind of blessing in disguise,
omen incognito, and a sign that this world —
no matter what we think we have to do with it —
will only ever be true
to its own wilder, wilderness-self.

Bill Dobell’s Doodling

Tun Tsz Wai Graffiti

To William Tell you the truth, I don’t know
what I was thinking: to take my mind
off my mind for a while, perhaps? And off
the cancer
that has no name. . . . First,
I asked Alice to teach me to knit, but
in it she saw no hope and refused
point-blank. Now,
alert by the telly of an evening, with paper and pen
balanced on a book,
I look
but I do not watch,
waiting for the sign within the signal, eventual event,
like the shadow of an eagle as it animates the inert black-and-white gravel
of some coarse-grained TV-image.
A glimpse is enough, though,
to set my rough biro glued to the page
tracing the trance of a nuance
that brings me — out of myself
and out of my own ailing woodwork —
the mutation that means



Photograph: 香港屯門屯子圍 Tuen Tsz Wai, Tuen Men, Hong Kong (2016年)

Hong Kong Tin Hau Temples: Hau Kok 口角天后古廟

Evette KWOK_Tin Hau Temple_Tuen Mun_5 MAY 2019

When you get off the train at the terminus at Tuen Mun and descend into the streets, you plunge at once into a canyon of sombre, towering buildings that seem industrial in nature rather than architectural. Through the centre of town, another degraded river — the so-called Tuen Mun River Channel — crawls rather than runs on its way past the Public Cargo Working Area and down to the sea, slightly murky in appearance and bounded in its expanse by the usual snug straitjacket of concrete. For all that, Tuen Mun had no power to shut out the Spring, and it had come to the city with a riot of bird-call in the sliver of park squeezed between Tin Hau Road and the water, and with a fragrant outpouring from purple bauhinia flowers and from those red floral giants sprouting on the leafless, grey-barked, ramrod-straight kapok trees.

The Hau Kok Tin Hau Temple is, according to the signpost, an 11-minute walk away, and I get there in good time, despite the obstacles put in my path by some new construction or renovation project. The word kok in Cantonese suggest a horn of land projecting into water, but perhaps reclamation has obliterated this geographical reality — a casual flick though the Hong Kong street directory will show you that there are many man-made straight lines in the Hong Kong coastline. Given the proximity to the sea, one would expect the worship of the goddess of the sailors to be vital to the locals, and this turns out to be the case: her temple sits against a hill in a large paved public square of considerable proportions, at the entrance to which is a magnificent though modernized ceremonial pai lau gateway. The interesting thing about this is that the matching couplets engraved onto it contain references both to Hau Kok and Tuen Mun, reinforcing the idea that such temples can play an essential role in sustaining not just a local community but in communing with a specific locale. “The region responds to the attention to the attention it receives from the various members of the community”, writes Thomas Berry, and I can only hope that it is so, because like so many other places in Hong Kong, clusters of high-rise apartment buildings are encroaching with grim determination on all sides.

The temple certainly seems to be an important focus for the community: it shows many signs of being well-used. Although hardly thronging with visitors on this special day of the Ching Ming Festival, the large censer in front of the temple is belching incense, as is the incinerator for paper-offerings located off to the left-hand side, next to a squat shrine — this one painted yellow rather than the typical red —  dedicated to 社稷大王之神位 , the two great kings of the land and of grain. The main gates of this temple are painted vermilion, and the door gods have been rendered in a tasteful, antique style. Above the lintel, there are the usual paintings of auspicious animals and natural scenes. As an added bonus, reflecting perhaps the idiosyncratic bent of artist, we also have depictions of two of China’s greatest poets. On the left, Su Tung-p’o is shown “playing” with ink-stones (a less literal and more scholarly translation for the verb waan might be “makes a display of his connoisseurship”), while on the right we see “Li Po Getting Drunk on Wine” but still steady on his feet. To a foreigner, both seem frivolous if not immoral scenes, hardly edifying for the pious temple-goer intent on worship, but they suggest that the pleasures of this life are not incompatible with the upholding of the sacred, and serve as a gentle reminder that from early times, Chinese poetry has been associated with shamanism and journeys into the numinous spirit-world.

Continue reading “Hong Kong Tin Hau Temples: Hau Kok 口角天后古廟”

Cantonese through News Stories: Benny Tai Goes to Jail

Capture_Occupy Central Sentencing_24 APR 2019

Students of Cantonese watching the news in recent weeks have enjoyed an absolute field day in terms of legal vocabulary. In this report on the jailing of civil disobedience activist Professor Benny Tai, 趙嘉韻 Jiuh6 Gāa1 Wahn6 at TVB provides us with a very competent update on the basics of penitentiary vocabulary. The way things are going in Hong Kong, familiarity with the following twelve new words is set to become essential learning . . .

12 new words:

1. 押送 aat3 sung3 = to escort; to take … under escort
2. 監獄 gāam1 yuhk6 = prison; jail
3. 服刑 fuhk6 yìhng4 = to serve a prison sentence
4. 囚衣 chàuh4 yī1 = prison clothes
5. 囚車 chàuh4 chē1 = prison van
6. 懲教署 = chìhng4 gaau3 chyúh5 = Correctional Services Department
7. 收押所 sāu1 aat3 só2 = detention house; reception centre
8. 紀律程序 géi2 leuht6 chìhng4 jeuih6 = disciplinary procedures
9. 革除 gaak3 chèuih4 = to dismiss (from employment)
10. 判囚 pun3 chàuh4 = to sentence (someone) to go to prison (?)
11. 公民抗命  gūng1 màhn4 kong3 mihng6 = civil disobedience
12. 爭取民主 jāng1 chéui2 màhn4 jyú2 = to struggle for democracy

*For jyutping romanization, you can cut and paste any Cantonese vocabulary in this post onto the Sheik Cantonese website for checking.

Benny Tai, one of the people who initiated Occupy Central, was taken off to prison under escort to serve his sentence.

Wearing a prison uniform, Benny Tai — who has been sentenced to sixteen months in prison — was escorted onto a prison van by staff from the Correctional Services Department and taken away from the Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre.

Note: Just as Cantonese says “[my] stomach is hungry” for “I am hungry”, here we have “[his] body was wearing”. Also, 由yàuh4 here seems to indicate agency, identifying the “doer” of a particular action. Possibly it is used here in preference to the passive marker 被beih6 which (at least traditionally) was associated with unpleasant or adverse consequences

Continue reading “Cantonese through News Stories: Benny Tai Goes to Jail”

Dressing the Naked Eye

2017-08-14 Kindling

The upright piano stands like an empty cupboard of music
where a small boy holding balloons bigger than his head
stands talking story to a pulse in consciousness
and to the portrait of a fresh-faced Queen
in the deserted gloom of a daytime picture theatre.
We speak briefly, for contact more than content,
as morning sharpens its chill breath
against the fine-crushed gravel of the narrow path.
Violet-leaves curled in a sidelong shade
go on concocting a promise of Winter flowers,
and the berries bequeathed by dead elder-blossom
glint with prick-sparks of highlit gloss.
In a canyon of orange brickwork,
I recall for no reason the small shock of the sight of a yabby,
washed from a dam and drowned in sunshine,
dazzling whiter at the side of a road
than chips of quartz. Its albino husk
supported an almost perfect appearance of life
betrayed only by the fact of inanimate
absolute stillness. Near a main road,
as you guide me by hand against the traffic,
a breeze divides itself around my body’s tall building,
flawed by an age in love
with the wrong gold. Later, while cutting up firewood,
I notice how my sawing’s sawdust
imitates the falling sands of the hourglass:
the grains in their sift momentum
maintain formation against a full-strength wind,
half human voice, half inhuman noise
intent on scatter in the order of creatures
yet susceptible — oddly — to a melody’s skeleton-lilt.