● 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.
When you died a second time and came back to life, I was worried you’d begun to make a habit of it. You never did, growing instead easily to become the biggest fish in the pond with a healthy curiosity for what lay beyond, overwater. As a fully-grown giant, you started fattening out sideways and would orbit your sphere round and round the perimeter — a trundling red planet truly at home in your girth. I guessed you were sick when you took to planting yourself upside-down in a clump of waterlilies, poor, demented mermaid headstanding in ocean and waving her gauze at some air-drowned mortal like me: Farewell! Each day you waved and each day, unfinned, I’d wave you my dry human wave in return — Farewell! — till existence inside you shrank to a speck and you sank through the wreck of your own dead weight
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.
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, mimicking hello’s 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 ⸺ Other-Brother-Sister ⸺ 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)
● Woo Sai Nga, born in Hong Kong, is a member of Fannou Poetry Society. She graduated from the Chinese Department, Baptist University of Hong Kong in 2017 and is now teaching at a secondary school. She publishes poems in literary magazines in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and has won the Youth Literary Award (青年文學獎) and the Award for Creative Writing in Chinese (中文文學創作獎) in Hong Kong. She was the leader of the workshop “Literary Convergence ⸺ May Fourth Hong Kong”, Theatre-in-Education Project (Reading and Writing), held at the Hong Kong Literature Research Centre, The Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2019/20.
● Audrey Heijns, based in Hong Kong, is working at Shenzhen University. Her translations of Chinese literature have been published in literary magazines, including Het Trage Vuur, Twee Ronde, KortVerhaal, Terras, Renditions, Exchanges and Poetry International.
A voice calls your name three, four times through the (empty) house. It’s her voice, you’re sure — the voice
of your sister. You expect any moment to see her face worrying at a window or opening to you through a door.
There is no one.
You explain it as a sign of an “audible disorder” in your head, but maybe this key to all of us that has no precise sound or shape of its own borrowed one refrain from insistent thought to ask you to step outside your own self-echo.
Photograph: 香港西貢：塗鴉 Graffiti seen in Sai Kung, Hong Kong (2018)
Ալ հոգնա՜ծ եմ ըսպասելեն տենչանքներուս մեղրին անույշ — Միսաք Մեծարենց
I imagined you uncomfortably centre of a swarm when you said you’d run them over with the mower, the bees. We marched to our surprise back to the place, hearing the high-voltage hum of an unidentified engine, singing of the sting rather than of coarse honey’s vaguer promise. Clustered at the mouth of a depression, they made a house of themselves on shorn grass, court of a runaway queen restless for fresh pollen or victims of virus-longing. Sentries levitated against our curious air-space, buzzing sun-glassed heads as a check to distance. My exposed ankles felt for the insects, with the sun in the west and frogs exhaling damp at dusk to the threat of frosts. What could they do deprived of the six angles of the hexagon bees need to impose minimum shelter on their world? To know that we would have to return when fields of frozen-grinning daisies next came back to light. And we did. They were gone.
Photograph: 香港錦田天后廟 Tin Hau Temple in Kam Tin, Hong Kong (2016)
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