Prehistorically once flung from the mouth of a volcano, then frozen by time into this — dark glass. It must have been a fragment, I thought at first, of some antique rural bottle, but then it dawned on me that the only thing it could be was a whole fragment unto itself, an entire jigsaw puzzle consisting of only exactly one piece. Stupidly, I wanted it to show me another world, or at least something astonishing hidden in the seams of visual habit — after all, ours is an era of a myriad of transparencies — how we long to see through past the gloss of the surface to voluptuous promise o so expertly packaged within, but my toy showed me nothing — I might as well have been looking through a carrot for the moon — I was merely blinding myself better in the name of vision. My friend the carpenter goes out each day precisely to hit the nail on the head and to saw with his ruler down to the nearest millimetre planks of timber beyond all our wildest dreams. Perhaps this explained my newfound deep thirst for murk, for that which was never meant to excite the organs of sight, for that jagged lens which will make absolutely no spectacle of itself under any circumstances: optical point-blank refusal of all acts of seeing. Geologists, I know, have a word for it, drenched in Latin. They pronounce rather than say it: O-B-S-I-D-I-A-N.
At least partially paralyzed below the waist, he is bemused — or cross — in the whole of his face when baldly I tell him in the best of my bad Cantonese that I have no interest in tennis at all, no: mou hingcheui 冇興趣. “God, what a waste!” I imagine I see him think. How he wishes he could force my legs through some quirk or kink of fate at once to trade places with his! For solace he lights up a cigarette, smoking hot air the length of Lek Yuen Street. When he’s finished lunch we shake able-bodied arms before he grips calloused wheels with his sugar-cube-crushing palms and rolls off to a court nearby for a set. Unsteady as sunstroke as I get to my feet, I have to duck a dragonfly-volley aimed slap bangright between the eyes, like guilt.
Photograph: 香港坪洲廟仔 Small shrine on Peng Chau, Hong Kong
I ask kids playing in the gutter what the writing in the sky says. Froggy, they scream, laughing at me and their own outrageous fart sounds. Froggy.com.moon, adds the brashest, correcting the others, and puzzling me with his poem. As I walk into sunset, blinded by glow, I watch the white letters formed by a pinprick plane blur slowly to cloud as if written in water with milk. Down at the intersection, Arab girls wearing veils disco dance as they wait to cross. From the other side of the road, I watch one of them turn and point into the sky: Froggy, I lip-read. Froggy, she says, with a flick of her body that synchs on the dot with the traffic-light’s shift to green. Down by the Greek’s, I relearn at first hand from brilliant geraniums, the difference between red and real pink while the solemn space around houses reminds me that silhouette and the darkness of mountains exert a more powerful pull than any conceivable instance of colour, but best of all, as those letters lose shape in the fading light, is that crescent moon silver with unpaid shine.
Photograph: 澳洲墨爾本唐人街 Chinatown, Melbourne, Australia (2020)
At this point in time a finger on the trigger is the only fact you can possibly make headroom for while your opponent ⸺ if there is such an assailant ⸺ manages to snaffle every hiding-place on offer in this weather-boarded weather-beaten ghost-town. TIME AT THIS POINT PASSES YOU BY: needles on the cacti spike out an extra inch of their substance; TIME AT THIS POINT PASSES YOU BY: a whole small mountain removes itself in equal measures of fine dust and sand to relocate in horse winds galloping the prairie or in long lung-linings elastic with howl in a grey wolf; TIME AT THIS POINT PASSES YOU BY: you feel the rougher molecules in particles, then atoms densely packed in discrete motes of steel, as texture ⸺ out of thin air ⸺ overtakes by stealth all those sources of distraction in your porous cowboy head. You don’t exactly lose yourself in this quest for concentration, but, in blinding sunset’s molten yellow glare, as your man-shadow lengthens past the point of no return it is you who go off ⸺ not that figment of a firearm you once held in your hand and when you turn for home puzzling in this dark adaptation and navigating by new stars in your personal undergalaxy, there is no time to spare even one last thought for any Wild Western smoking gun’s linger . . .
Photograph: 香港龍躍頭天后宮 Tin Hau Temple, Lung Yeuk Tau, Hong Kong
He turns to the woman behind him in the queue and says: Life is like a bicycle ⸺ when you stop pedalling, it stops. She disagrees, instinctively, and so do I from further down the line (but do I really, deep down?) I think that sometimes there is beauty that can take my breath away, but mainly there’s just breath, a slow and steady intake of whatever’s taking place in time. What he really meant to say was that our lives have become machine-like and full of desperation, that work is a rat-race destructive of any genuine sense of achievement (but it could be so much more), and that any thought of change is crushed by the constant threat of failure, but by the time I managed to think of all this it was too late to tell him ⸺ out loud.
Photograph: 香港東平洲 Tung Ping Chau, Hong Kong (2016)
In the long run it seemed taller ⸺ failure ⸺ as if it were only “fortune” spelt backwards in a new word too high for high school. Certainly, it made dreams of all that was opposite richer; without it, aspiration would have seemed uneventfully flatter. And then, for the time being, there was everything you could wish for in air, in water, in trees that still storeyed straight up out of the yard into their skyward beams. And the sun rose and settled, in one sense out of this world, yet infinitely at the same time in it, with its warmth, its light, its infallible solar-solidarity. And the moon too more changeable than any sun could be and so much closer to disaster in its proximity to darkness continued to spin with ritual total surrender to the dictates of gloom through each slow stage of a broad blemished radiance. The universe in its essential cycles went on deliberately overriding ⸺ and undermining ⸺ Grand Human Design, till finally for precisely that reason I decided to take my own life back from AMBITION, one day dividing attention instead with everything transient, flawed, and trustworthy only in the immediate sense, in that unique scheme of a blink-of-the-eye instant and, in the process, learning ⸺ if you could even call it “learning” ⸺ over and over ⸺ what so-called “damage” had to tell me⸺ the hard way.
Photograph: 香港沙田城門河 Shing Mun River, Sha Tin, Hong Kong (2017)
Back-to-front was where you felt most at home,
it seemed. Maybe it had something to do
with being left-handed, and so right-minded.
But now it was time to turn your house-keeping off
and get carried away:
no matter how clean the dishes were, that
didn’t mean warmth when or where it counted,
spontaneous, heart-felt, operative.
A little dust, a little dirt, a little fraying at the edges
never seriously killed anyone, you see: they
were the death only of an outside, rigid image
applied quasi-religiously in the wrong place
like rule-books for breathing
Photograph: 香港大嶼山 Earth God Shrine, Lantau Island, Hong Kong
A steady lack of success may eventually thicken into something not in the least
The small feel-toll of “empty” hours,
each one waiting for the wait to commence,
and the constant, constantly renewed frustration
of all and any expectation — this, too, is a quality
akin to achievement’s svelte felted unsung underlay.
In the long run,
of so many indefinite zeroes adds up —
not with addition’s conventional mathematics
by any stretch of the imagination but
by a stretch of the imagination beyond the reach
of all or any of the twenty-six letters in the English alphabet.
learn to make music of their garbled black noise,
readjusting the settings of a marathon rasp
to accommodate the work night does before dawn
to the tune of a billion years
and then to the tune of another billion years
as evertheless they go on summoning from the sky
the flash of that one instant meteor-rite’s song.