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)

Athletic Nude

FOR A BOXER WITH BASHFUL FISTS


The muscle he draws you with
threatens to turn on you.

In the beauty of a male contour
violence placidly looks the other way.

In the blinking of an eyelid,
what seduced you with its pleasure

now summons all its power
through the biceps and the triceps

of a rage.

Transaction, Little Bourke Street

But there he was, kissing
the footpath with his knees, precisely
motionless
against the stop-start traffic’s kick-the-curb impatience
beside the heart-lifting red
and blue, and green
of the patterned Chinese memorial gateway —
Earth’s short arch to Heaven —
near Russell Street.
Steeply bent over a basin half-filled with kitchen water,
as predictably chill
Melbourne rain began to spit through storey-tall gaps
in the sky-line, his intensity
tingled
the low-key atmosphere, but it wasn’t the touch of the rain
he needed: the coins
submerged in his liquid offering spelt a different,
more drastic prayer, here
drowning
far out the white-hot-shortness of debt.

“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)