Dancer at Sanya





I squirm in my seat, convinced I know
exactly what to expect: the show starts
with a man blowing folk-tunes on a leaf.
In her pink, sequinned costume
she could have lost heart
in this troupe forced on tourists.
Not so. I’m forced
to sit up in my seat at once
by the awareness she projects
to the ends of her human body.
Not a cell seems to sleep,
and when she orbits away from my gaze
I still feel the concentration of her face
staring at me in her hands, in her feet,
in the effortless torsion of her spine:

     Watch me if you can thoroughly, she dares.
     Match me this aliveness with your own!


Even the dismal clapping of the crowd
cannot drown her dancing from my nerves.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Recently, I’ve been enjoying Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic, an inspiring book for anyone who finds most of their happiness in living comes from trying every day just to make something a little bit beautiful. Her emphasis on discipline and the importance of making art for love rather than money are two aspects that certainly struck a true chord with me . . .

She ends the book with a section entitled “Divinity”, comprising a single anecdote about the sacred temple dances of Bali. The following paragraphs helped me make sense of the incident described in Dancer at Sanya”, in which profane and sacred collide disconcertingly:

They decided that they would make up some new dances that were not sacred, and they would perform only these certified “divinity-free” dances for the tourists at the resorts. The sacred dances would be returned to the temples and would be reserved for religious ceremonies only.

And that is exactly what they did. They did it easily, too, with no drama and no trauma. Adapting gestures and steps from the old sacred dances, they devised what were essentially gibberish dances, and commenced performing these nonsense gyrations at the tourist resorts for money . . .

The thing is, over the next few years, those silly new meaningless dances became increasingly refined. The young boys and girls grew into them, and, working with a new sense of freedom and innovation, they gradually transformed the performances into something quite magnificent. In fact, the dances were becoming rather transcendent. In another example of an inadvertent séance, it appeared that those Balinese dancers — despite all their best efforts to be unspiritual — were unwittingly calling down Big Magic from the heavens, anyhow. Right there by the swimming pool.

There’s actually quite a good deal of material on-line about Balinese dancing. If you’re curious, you can take a look here. And here’s some Gilbert on Big Magic.

Jeepers


Perhaps it’s just that the human mind is incapable of imagining anything that doesn’t begin.

— Diana Athill, “Whistling in the Dark”

He says, “Latch the old door well
before we both catch cold, son. . . .”
Seated in a square of light spitting image of the frost
we watch together through a warped timber window-frame
Moon muse in a museum of stars
and dark artefacts:

Something beginning with . . .

Somewhere foxes do their rounds regardless,
marking with telltale brown turds highlights of the chill territory
and hares lope nose down over scent-trails,
doubling back where the smell ties itself in knots —
no, a hare is never tangled by such tricks.
After the moon has gone, the house cracks
loudly of its own accord —
it doesn’t split our connection with concentration,
but it’s hard not to get lost in imaginary after-shocks
courtesy of the head’s echo-chamber.
I hear him ask me in a hoarse whisper,
as he nudges me with a boot, “Hey, you still all there?”
The way I say nothing through the air
gives him just as good as the answer he expects:

Something beginning with . . .

Storm on the Ng Tung River 梧桐河

The river shivers in its concrete canal,
ludicrously rain-drenched. The surging current
swollen by drains is offset by single
stock-still birds. Their statue is prayer
their hunger prays
to the Gods of Wildlife and Fisheries.
I know I wish I knew how to stand like that:
out of my depth for an unknown good,
intent on the flow of concentration,
and with only the eyes in the back of my head living.

Photograph: 香港沙田萬佛寺 Ten Thousand Buddhas Temple, Sha Tin, Hong Kong (2017)

“The Original Inexhaustible Fund of Buoyancy”

Whatever the Doctor orders, is there any cure
for crying out loud? Where
the po social face
wonders under control, the force of her features lives
with a distinct livelihood of its own,
owning up to everything feeling,
and not toning down for shame what captures
her imagitation.
A ray of hope
or a stingray
of doubt — these never take second place
to cool schooled composure, and when —
again for crying out loud — she is bigger
than World Protocol, tears
streaming down her cheeks
and embarrassment singe-ing her singing nerves,
she remains single in that vivid affirmation,
sparkle-arkle-arkling at us all.


Photograph: Evette Kwok (2020)

Here, Especially, the Unassuming Loner Inches Inches Closer to a Particle of Half-truth

In each or any fraction of this work, there is no actual measurable sign of success.

Simply one wishes into the dark for yet another word, and tries to climb by personal pencil possibly higher than the known world’s stockpile of lead.

Eyes stare stars into space . . .

Minutes minute and hours hour almost identically . . .

Flesh and bone become ever so gently enemies of a hardwoodenchair.

Somehow sometimes pitch black ringing in the candle is turned utterly inside out, and wins for the language just a moment of freshness a century, or two, from today.

But is it really always the case that for we human beings “time alone will tell”?

Yes, absolutely ⸺ all our time alone.

Photograph: 香港龍躍頭麻笏圍附近 Somewhere near Ma Wat Wai, Lung Yeuk Tau, Hong Kong

We Look the Other Way

Things admitted to weather beauty without glare.
The red rust of old house-roofs
rests sorely animate eyes.
Posts unpainted by the elements
refine texture in the same way as driftwood —
sight is nothing but soothed
by childhood’s grain-patterning in timber.
Lichen is the flower born to no notice:
its muted green coral
maps bare stone oceans of rock.
What is inconspicuous
invites us indefinitely to look the other way  —
less in easy love with glamour,

(introvertly).


Photograph: Evette Kwok (2020)

Get Real, Sister

Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her. (Hosea, Chapter 2)

I call it THE DESERT where everything, everything flowers
but me. Sand
in that landscape largely absents itself,
not a dune to be seen: I am the sand
crawling expressly against the grain
like a strong, many-crippled river
of dust. Rain
showers down complacently from the sky
to ensure all humanly
physical thirsts are more than admirably quenched,
while existence crackles
its tightly-scrolled parchment in me.
Almost always,
the hot sun forgets to beat down;
little of the treachery of shape-shifting mirages
buckles the bare-faced horizon;
and no bird
cawless between finger-fringed wingtips
watches through the hours for the next candidate corpse to drop dead
on its beat. Yet
still my impossible personal desert
continues to encroach, infinitely
arid and stern,
and I am ordered out of the world’s flat portrait
to hear for myself
spoken out of nowhere how the patterns I learned ―
and I lived ― by heart
are now invalid features
right here in such fundamental country.

The Whole Joy (Tender Living)

Photo by Elianne Dipp on Pexels.com

● More than ten years ago now, a young woman went swimming at an Australian beach and was attacked and killed by sharks. This would be regarded as a tragedy anywhere in the world, but to the Australian psyche, obsessed with the sun and the sea as symbols of ultimate freedom, it was an unpardonable outrage committed by nature against the human order.

Like many others, beyond pointless outrage, I needed to make sense of this. How on earth do we come to terms with something so completely awful? To me, poetry means trying to find the words to deal with the unspeakable. At least, this is where it truly come in to its own, giving us a way through something that looms as a monolithic block, a lockdown of all our usual patterns of thought and feeling. Poems must take us where we cannot go purely on the basis of our common sense or experience . . .

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

The Whole Joy

Every swimmer
knows that terror
she died of

yet still this Summer
we bait the water
with her fears.

Sun, sand, sea:
how these three
symbol the mind’s joy.

What shadows them —
decease, devastation —
revolts it.

Like earth, like air,
no ocean bears
the slightest enduring stain.

We mind her pain,
scarified, so that we may learn
the whole joy.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Three words in the last stanza are vital. The verb “to mind” has at least three relevant meanings here. First of all, it suggests offence: we are disgusted by what happened, and we don’t want it to happen again. Secondly, the event stays with us, becomes something that stays on our minds, making us incapable of getting it out of our heads. But finally, we are asked, perhaps, to look after this pain, to mind it on behalf of the victim, and to keep it intact in our lives so that it can play a meaningful role in how we move on past grief and horror.

The rather heavy-handed “scarify” obviously blends the two meanings of “scare” and “scar”. “Scar” echoes the previous “minding”, in the sense of allowing something to endure and of keeping it close to us, skin-close. I also had in mind something of what Jiddu Krishnamurti is quoted as saying about meditation in a recent powerful post on Vanessa Able’s The Dewdrop site: “it’s a danger to those who wish to lead a superficial life and a life of fancy and myth”. In the same way, the terrible fate of the young swimmer is a meditative reminder to us to live more authentically, to jolt us out of our fantasy wonderland version of reality.

The final phrase “the whole joy” indicates both complete joy and the joy of knowing wholeness, a wholeness capable of accepting everything that happens to us on this Earth as human beings ⸺ and not just the pleasant flounces and trimmings we so often wish to reduce existence to.

Memory is crucial here. Perhaps one should even hazard a new word and say membory, with a silent b. Unbearably, excruciatingly, in this context, however, what a desolate verb “to remember” turns out to be.

September, a Tall Ardour

Into one warmer corner of today
the Sun sneaks, leaving that Winter-distant anchorage it has
in each and every Sun-less-other-day
to pour against Antarctica
a decisive hint or two of long-lost Spartan ardour.
Goose-pimpled at the heart of an open-wide air,
I am instantly all-porous to the unappointed warmth
of such vernal atmosphere
and out of the rigid closed fist of my full-body huddle
ever so slowly I begin to ravel outwards ―
the way these chattering roof-top swallows seem to do,
ruffling the length of the chilly metal gutter
their glinting metallic blue-sheened feathers
and the Winter-flame-red feathers of their weathered chests,
preening ― as they talk ― with pinpointing, deft beaks,
with their unclenched, bolder bird-sense of tall order.