Michelle, Anywhichwaywards

The limelight is not in her nature;

at any contest, she is one being who makes no crowd of itself;

standing with her back to the front of other people’s stages, she looks further out into the picture, and then — after that — into that further-out;

she is the alien-word of heart in a world of seven billion mouths, running to honey but beyond all sweet;

only she bewares the false-middle and the false-end just as well as the false-start;

and her shrewder nudity of Earth attention (stronger, brighter, deeper) means:

an aliver saliva in the vital sense and wider — wondering — why?s.

Photograph: 香港西貢大浪灣大洲尖洲 The islands of Tai Chau and Tsim Chau in Tai Long Wang, Sai Kung, Hong Kong

Wide Awake and Dead to the World (Volcanic Glass)

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:

Photograph: 香港東坪洲 Tung Ping Chau, Hong Kong

The Use of One’s Legs (Sha Tin 沙田)


Small Shrine Peng Chau_3 DEC 2018

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 bang right between the eyes,
like guilt.


Photograph: 香港坪洲廟仔 Small shrine on Peng Chau, Hong Kong


Chinatown Building 3_7 MAR 2020

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
                     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)



Bell Lung Yeuk Tau Tin Hau Temple_7 APR 2016

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.
needles on the cacti spike out an extra inch of their substance;
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;
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

To the Man in the Bank (After Adam Zagajewski)

Tung Ping Chau_Tree in Cliff RESIZED

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)

Lightly, Politely, Indirectly

Sweeper's Hat Sha Tin_NOV 2017

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)

Conscientious Objector

Earth God Shrine Lantau Island

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
or laughter.


Photograph: 香港大嶼山 Earth God Shrine, Lantau Island, Hong Kong

Her Knuckles Speak Her Mind

Cha Kwo Ling Marlboro CROPPED

Kiki cracks her knuckle-joints.

From underneath the table, she punctuates my sly attempt at conversation with discreet bone-echo.

I never ask her outright what’s on her mind: her forehead — stretched taut by her black headscarf, by youthful-deluded insouciance —

frowns only at nothing,

at the shadow of a shadow of a doubt at once dispelled, I see,

by these syllables she utters in the ready skeleton of her hands.


Photograph: 香港茶果領 Cha Kwo Ling, Hong Kong (2018)

Counting to One


A steady lack of success may eventually thicken into something not in the least
like failure.

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,
the sum
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.
Crows likewise
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.