To get to this point, she had to be largely out of the common sense. Like toilet paper fluttering in a steady draught, twisting and snaking the full length of its perforated segments, her nerves never ceased, never settled into any less unpredictable pattern called “home”. Each turn of phrase was a change of heart, emotion’s perpetual motion — she couldn’t f-f-f-find herself for long in a single one of any of her f-f-f-feelings. Voices spoke against her in a relentlessly demented tone of vice. Her search against incomprehension was for anything that would drive her sane — by middle age, the exhaustion was as clear as the no’s on her face. And yet, despite the accumulated mundane darkness, there were moments when — like the brave dog born without eyes — she could listen to the world to the limits of existence in all her skin, as if a Painted Lady had landed slap-bang on her forehead.
● If you’ve ever liked any of the poetry I’ve posted on this site, you have Hong Kong to thank. It was my first trip there in 1998 that really got me writing again after a bit of a lull. What do I remember about Cheung Shue Tan? There was an old woman who made wonderful scarecrows out of modern-looking dolls with very Western faces: well, they certainly scared me! And there was the crab that stayed up one night to greet me in the moonlight after another hard day at the office at nearby CUHK. It had one big, white-tipped claw that shone at me through the dark. And of course there was Mr Yeung’s sandalwood incense, burnt at dawn and dusk to appease the ancestors and, in the process, bringing a hint of true fragrance into my life . . .
Oh, and before I forget, there was the huge python that crossed the road as a file of us were making our down from the bus stop. You know that feeling: human beings standing very still, hardly daring to move, while waiting for danger to take our breath away.
Love walks the lovers down the hill with practised elegance until —
aaai! it looks like an insect got her right in the eye
(they’ve got me too this way and no doubt you as well . . .).
There’s, she’s fixed. They walk off again down the asphalt road,
the dark patch there banana trees actually by daylight
still busy with small fruit this time of year (autumn).
I say hello to “my” dogs like signposts along the way:
the timid one that lies in front of careless traffic —
canine death-wish (I think to myself) — home-life must be bad,
and the wicky black one with the black tongue to match
his friendly bad manners.
I’m always moved by the endurance of these creatures, their doggedness
(sorry . . .),
patient through endless rounds of gates, locks and fences,
all the human words for NO! banging in dog-ears.
(Oh, the lovers have just turned off. Why do I always
take my eyes off the lovers?)
Here’s the giant grape-fruit tree (the tree itself largish)
on the corner that smells of shit worse somehow after dark.
I say a few soothing words to the mutt in the Plexiglas kennel,
the one that gives me that gitouttahere growl every time
(I’d give me that growl too cooped up in such “space”)
and there looms home unlit on the first floor
above Mr Yeung’s flat with the two glaring door-gods
pasted squarely before me on his glass sliding-doors
to ward off evil.
Photograph: Tai Po Cheung Shue Tan Heung
Now I can only know you at all from the depth of the grief
of your dog. Loss is not something
we can ever run simply away from
with the speed ⸺ full pelt ⸺ of our legs,
yet what is a dog ⸺ newly orphaned ⸺ to do
but try. And try. And try. Otherwise,
stranded where standstill is the only possible option,
pain is forever,
never stopping to catch its breath.
From my long remote view, I think you could say
any of us would be proud of a mourning
that ran ⸺
and starved ⸺ for days,
single-mindedly careless of trivial well-being.
In this we sense the magic of both the dead and the living,
calling back and forth in synonymous,
which evoke in the process an enigmatic Third Realm,
a world inhabited by life, and by death,
and by a finely indistinctive common-nonsensical Something Else ⸺
that comes to the fore in peak-moments like this
just to teach us the gist
of page one of its elementary Beginner’s First Grammar
or the opening lines of some life-and-deathless short poem.
Photograph: 香港東涌黃龍坑豎井 Vertical shaft in Wong Lung Hang, Tung Chung, Hong Kong (2016)
I go out late in the afternoon to pick up sticks out of the thin forest floor. As the dog circuits rabbit and hare scents in the tussocks, I conscientiously fossick, keeping my eyes firmly fixed on small timber the wind or bigger birds all of a sudden broke free. The hum in my head talks on and on and on steadily — sometimes I wonder about this chatterbox I’ve kept my mind stuck in for the better part of a life. Why will it never shut up? Who holds the lid down? The dog on the periphery meanwhile tests his world by wandering, breaking new limits in fits before he comes galloping at full stretch when I call him back to the centre of attention. Before we know it, the green bucket is virtually pleasingly full, presenting a satisfying bristle of Chinaman Creek’s local woods. He suggests with his usual puppy playfulness that he pull the whole lot out so that I can start my patient gather once more from scratch. No, I tell him, as it matters. It’s getting late and we must be ready for the depth of Winter with this fragile tinder crackle that lets the first fire-sparks go.