By Kit Fan, from The Ink Cloud Reader (Carcanet, 2023)
How to Be a Fern
Blue-white then inky grey then hailstones
go pitter-patter on the glass.
The city I loved whose name I’ve erased returns
between me and the glass
as the thunder bends like saxophones
buried inside one of Keats’s urns.
Give me a second chance, the city insinuates.
A legion of storm clouds evaluates
me, I was young, opened my heart
too soon and the wind tore it apart
just like that. Wind was never a city
except when it drained the blood,
stuffed silences like cotton wool
into my ears, eyes, nose, asshole,
mouth, and preserved what was left of me in mud.
Silence is the city I still kiss, not reason
with. Many springs have swung by
and I keep kissing, unfurling my tongue,
for the city in me I can’t return
to isn’t rain, wind, or glass. I’m no fern.
Tell me how to be and I’ll learn
Hong Kong and the Echo
What do we know but that we face
One another in this place?
– W.B. Yeats, ‘Man and the Echo’
I loved my mountains, rivers and trees
long before towers and families, but if the only way
the sea can speak to the hills is through the moon
I will speak to you from the ink-dark
about the changing tides, the slow equivocal pain
of transition, how things are moving away
from the norm, the deceptive comfort
of a norm, the fading neon noises
on Mong Kok streets, the kind of blue and yellow
you’ll only find in my heart, the Lion Rock spirit
and the endangered species named after me:
the grouper, cascade frog, incense tree.
Echo. What do we know but that?
What’s the meaning of life in numbers?
Although I count every second of mine
I remember nothing of those Crown-
appointed governors come and gone who said
nothing, did nothing, changed nothing.
What the promises lie in a red flag with five stars
shooting out from one bauhinia?
Twenty-two moon-calendars since I was re-unorphaned
I stray and obey like a tree, half-crown, half-root,
branching out and bedding in, each growth year
a scar tissue erased by the smudges
of shared stocks, fireworks, new railways and bridges.
Echo. We face one another? We face one another?
What am I but the high-rise windows
reflecting the sun and the lives below?
Come, look into every single one
and find millions of homemade voices in an impasse,
in fissures, in boxlike existences
where one language is never enough.
High above I see black kites, sometimes white-bell
sea eagles gliding between glass and cliff,
drones and signals, eyeing the quick chance
while larks, thrushes and titmice are twittering
in bamboo cages, bird to bird, sharing
the captive sky with their distant counterparts
as one sun drops under the horizon
and a different one rises.
Echo. In this place? In this place? In this place?
Kit Fan, 2023