Beijing Standard Time
Beijing Standard Time is used across 9.6 million square metres. The sun rises around 10am in Xinjiang, China’s westernmost province.
‘And thought is as free as the sun[.]’ — Louis MacNeice
Do you own the sun?
Perhaps you do—you do dictate time.
Everywhere across this vast land,
your time is the time.
People so often discuss
how Chinese written characters
were simplified by Mao.
Do they know time, too,
Five zones reduced to one.
One time for ‘national unity’
One zone for ‘everyone’.
Little sacrifice, or inconvenience
for those in Beijing,
a city which imagines
that others orbit it, day in, day out.
But in some areas
the sun sets at midnight,
and only appears
again at ten.
No wonder those distanced
from the capital
perceive time their own way—
independent of Beijing Standard Time.
Can you blame them? Following
nature’s law is only natural.
And besides, the day is long,
and the emperor is already asleep.
(First published in Radius, Sept 2016)
One Little Room
A room with graffitied walls. Inside this room the dogs bark. A room cluttered with porcelain figurines. A room decorated with binary numbers. A room filled with beer kegs and crates. A room with an altar surrounded by incense. A room with the sound of a woman crying. A sandy room. A room with no room. One must kneel in this room. A tiny room for a tiny baby. A dark room that smells of oysters. An empty room with white tiles and a mop standing next to a closed door. A sunny room. A room that was once a cave in which sinners were secretly beheaded. Clocks melt in this room. A collapsing room. Sugarcubes turn to gold in this room. Night or day, a room, one tree, a wintry country road, two tramps. A room dressed in the French Indochina colonial style. A cork-lined room in which a man writes while lying in bed, fourteen pens rest on his tray, several others are scattered on the floor. A room in which a chamber orchestra is tuning up. A room where nobody speaks your language. A room with absolutely no straight lines. A room that is stuffed with burnt marshmallows. People get drunk in this room and take the wrong umbrellas home. The room is enormous and belongs to e.e. cummings. A room that cannot be photographed. A room in which one’s memory of childhood is rekindled. A room in which Sherlock Holmes plays his violin. A room in which love is made. Jane Eyre discovered that the chill red room was very seldom slept in. A room in which time does handstands on five continents. They don’t feel excluded when two real English speakers are in the same room, commenting on Memoirs of A Geisha or Bill Ashcroft’s postcolonial theories. Chow Mo-wan agrees to rent Room 2047 in the meantime. A room that is both sour and sweet. As we all know, the thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world. A room in which one imagines blowing out candles and going to the moon. A room is a sentence is a room. A room with a stained glass ceiling. A room for a particular Assistant Professor to rehearse her Modern Drama lectures. A room in which a young woman, petite and Asian, refuses to sing a song in Italian. The existential crisis of rooms in the age of digital reproduction. Last night, there was a typhoon in your room, 3.5K away from my home. A room in progress. Ted Kooser: ‘No one’s at home in this room.’ The painter’s bedroom at Arles. I suppressed a cry of horror and my sisters ran out of the room. ‘Dostoyevsky described hell as perhaps nothing more than a room with a chair in it. This room has several chairs. A young man sits in one.’ In Stalker, based on Roadside Picnic, there is a room that is said to grant whoever steps inside his or her deepest wishes. A room in which people are reincarnated as animals, perhaps. Judith Shakespeare’s room. A room exists in several formats. When they all leave the dining room, Mrs. Copperfield hugs David in secret and asks him to love his new father, Mr. Murdstone. A room in a shattered glass globe. In the living room where I smoked a cheap cigar for the first time, the desktop speakers vomited music that was apt for hip-dancing. A room with a postmodern, poststructuralist, postcolonial, posthuman, postfeminist, post-time view. A room in which decisions have to be constantly made. A room with a dumb waiter. A room covered with paintings of paintings of paintings. Winston Smith would not want his face to be chewed by aggressive rats in this room. Dali, in the drawing room, with a pancake. Tammy, in the lecture room, with a microphone. Men gather before the fire and one tells the story of The Turn of the Screw. A room with a rain-drenched lawn. A whitewashed room. In this room, all light switches are invisible. Six characters in search of a room. The man, bejewelled, broad-shouldered, stands on the middle of an elongated skull shadow. Everything goes in this room. In this room, is Cezanne’s fruit basket on the crowded table or on the ground? There’s a room on her face: the hollow eyes are windows facing the symmetrical cemetery, her nose is a broken chandelier, her mouth a round bed. Is there a text in this room? Is there an author in this room? Is there a reader in this room? Is there a theory in this room? Is there a professor in this room? Zen-like, he throws the room out of the room. To find a room numbered Catch-22. The room in which a small goldfinch is eternally trapped. I walked with you in our living room, hand in hand, back and forth, for half a mile. John Ashbery: ‘The room I entered was a dream of this room.’ A room that launched a thousand ships. The room in which Turner died: ‘The sun is God!’ A room, a photo of that room, a photo of someone in that room. How do you reference a room in MLA style? No one can walk into the same room twice. A room in which three workers are scraping the floor, ‘by force of exactitude.’ Songs from the room on the second floor. A room that is only useful as a reference to the past. In this room, the differences between the two-dimensional and three-dimensional are eroding. Find a room in which to develop a sense of nostalgia for something. Death be not proud, in this room. With a certain him, in that room, a triple pang of being loved and lonely and lunatic. Thomas Hardy: ‘Who’s in the next room?—Who?’ In one room I was born. In another I learnt to spell. Once, in a room, I fell in love, first shallowly, then urgently, as though we meant it. There’s a room in which I shall die the death of a woman. A room that has an infinite number of rooms within it. John Donne: ‘And makes one little room an everywhere.’
(First published in Berfois, June 2015)
It was a kind of thatched hut. Outside,
cars whisked past on the never-busy road.
Or perhaps it was not a hut but a house made of wood.
Small, mean. Maybe it was stone?
I cannot rebuild that place with my brick words;
there are no pictures left to verify my description.
I was not yet three, only half conscious of space and clocks.
And my twin sisters, younger than me,
looked like rude boys, wore second-hand pyjamas.
One time, they played with the yolks of broken eggs,
calligraphed on the cement floor. Of that we have a picture.
There is no trace of me in that familiar frame,
but I was convinced that I must be there somewhere,
in that same room. For many years, I imagined myself
standing just behind a cupboard or a broom,
looking on adoringly at my sisters and their toys:
shells, scraps of indistinguishable paper, dust balls.
Later I was told that my too young mother, who had had
three by twenty-two, couldn’t handle us all under one roof
and had sent me to a village on the Mainland.
I was not present when that picture was taken.
(First published in Berfois, May 2013)