Where Else: An International Hong Kong Poetry Anthology, edited by Jennifer Wong, Jason Eng Hun Lee, Tim Tim Cheng. Published by Verve Poetry Press, June 2023
Ngee Sik Ng Sik
By Roland Tsoi
No one ever tells you how easily a language dies;
it melts into the skin, dead cells flake through the air
as it is denied passage onto another generation.
Hakka, her words of a guest family moulding like the folds of her elderly skin.
It’s said that with time,
the blood has difficulty breaking down the sugar;
The sucrose crystallises in the bloodstream,
depositing particles on the estuary.
The sweetness of her smile fades,
as she comes and goes out of consciousness.
My aunt peels an orange, a colour radiant.
Sunshine in her hands.
My grandmother's eyes tremor as she wakes.
The wedge is placed between her lips, her face contort into itself;
wrinkling lines that converge onto her nose.
Muscles fight against the tears that swell until her eyes turn red.
Her gums mash words.
In the silence, I dig up the words in a language I do not know well.
“Mao tong mah?”
She groans at the bland meal,
My aunt has smuggled some soy sauce.
amongst the pastel walls and vacant stares from passers by.
Her eyes droop
“Koi m koi ah?” I ask
“Hao koi” she answers.
She struggles to keep her eyes open,
her head nestled on a mountain of pillows.
by Tammy Lai-Ming Ho
I've grown tired of aquatic metaphors,
especially those about my city.
The other morning I saw a dog in the sea
excited to swim far out again and again
to retrieve a toy bone thrown
by its absent-minded owner next to the shark
lines. Was it the fake chewed bone?
The freedom of movement
in water? The familiarity of the routine?
The small triumph in closing the distance
between the body and what is outside
of it? I can't interrogate what prompts
joy in dogs or fish, but I remember
that whole moment and me in it—
becoming an agentless metaphor.
To thine own happiness be too.
By James Shea
I dub everything in my own voice.
My mouth never matches perfectly with what I am saying.
Life can be life-like, if you like life.
The winner in the winner’s circle is always the circle itself.
Can’t see that star in the sky?
It’s like someone left a flashlight on in the bottom drawer.
Last night, it rained inside a mall.
There’s very little crime here, but there could be a war.
At an East Prussian Restaurant in Berlin
By Chris Song
We’d been to a French bar with a neon sign
and tasted spoiled wine and champagne
and drank a toast to old film posters. We left the clatter
of foreign tongues and repaired to a dark street corner
to imagine the sounds of home. We’d seen the underground city
and had peppermint ginger tea under a parasol to suppress fear.
Memory was incised by a church’s broken dome
against the sky’s gloom. We wondered what was happening
to our home. We looked for an East Prussian restaurant
near Walter-Benjamin-Platz. A family-run ambiance
chased the foreign chill away. The waitress introduced
the etiquette for their traditional dishes. We had a pork knuckle
and a bowl of subdued beetroot soup. Would they
help us understand a country that’s been engulfed?
Old posters of town squares, obscure Impressionist paintings
and family pictures hung on the dull yellow walls.
We drank a toast to a wall that’s gone thirty years
but heard a picture frame’s glass shatter on the floor.
When your home’s gone, will the soup go bad?
The din of foreign speech and silverware roused us,
but the leftover wine carried the memory of blood.
Another wall rises anxiously in our hearts.
We buried our faces in the pickle brine of the free world.
There’ll be a poetry reading on a square where books had been burned.
There Is a Season Waiting Behind This One
By Collier Nogues
This morning began with soldiering. A battle, some heroism
I dreamed myself into,
out of these vague days become pure
routine. I led a drill no one wanted to follow, convinced no one,
even with real fire behind us smoking up the horizon
beyond which our sincerest hopes,
beloved, backed down again.
The radio switched on and off without
our touching it. What came over the air was someone else’s
war, or it was ours we began to make out in the purple blossoms
the red blooms waning over the public
pool backed by the factory block.
The river’s its own gauge;
it’s full as can be. It smells like a new town
the night a single law arrives to carry all of us, our children,
our animals forward.
One animal, left, lifts her nose to the air.
A war of language,
like a sea war, like a drone war, like
a war in the stars making noise we can’t hear
though the drones are made where we live, their noise so close,
entirely lit, blinking
into dusk, the yellowjackets swirling in a fog
around the flowers.
Not one of us could turn the corner as easily as that. Not one of us owns
our own home or hopes to.
The police ask a man wearing black for his wallet.
The police walk around in fatigues.
No bloom looks the same to me under this sky
if I can see the sky, if it’s the kind of sky that’s visible
above my government.
What light it sheds I try to follow
into night and out again, surrounded
by fellow citizens. I wave to them.
The nearest ones wave back, then look straight up,
setting down their well-worn umbrellas now that umbrellas
are no longer of use.
Looking straight up, you have to
open your eyes to see the clouds moving
another direction than what you’d expected. You have to keep your eyes open
even as rain fills up their wells.