In the hard shadow of the moon
when the recesses of light have gone 
and the faint red of the hawk’s shoulder has disappeared from the sky
in the growing pulse of the praying mantis
when the city has come into its own new light
it is here where I often remember:

the weaving of ocean vines
the trails of history, cemented by touch
the small ridged blossom of the cowry shell
the indigo dye made radiant by the seller’s basket.

The way the long grass 
emerges at the shore.
Something of that meeting.

These are memories both distant and near
traces of them lived and felt 
laughing in the company of the ones who came
holding the silence of the moment, as we stare 
with wonder, at the bubbling ruptures of a painter’s canvas,
pull, with care, the clinging skin of a stubborn fruit.

I recall these moments 
not from the grand gesture
of a thing once known, 
but from a small place
the place where my child’s hand
is hidden warmly inside my own.

Somewhere Else

It is here on this ridge 
exposed to the orange dusk 
of mountain autumn 
that the story begins. 

Buck wood for the stove 
feel the heat of shoulder to tendon 
greet the mule deer 
and water the garden again. 

In rhythm, with song 
when the ax begins to blend with wind
carry on to warmer days 
on the river’s open banks 
where the fervor of healing is found in water. 
Flow from one origin to another--
there is never a place where we cannot begin 
where the current is ancient, the wind is young 
teaching each other like the ax and the wood. 

Carve a place for dignity 
plant a seed and pray for rain 
for sun 
for understanding outside your self. 

There will come a day when they say: 
who do you think you are 
and another day will come 
for you to tell. 

On that day the story will appear 
but do not tell of yourself 

tell the story of the staff that blossomed in the desert
or the one about your enemy’s greatest victory

tell the story of somewhere else

Donkey Carts and Desolation

Dilapidated clapboard shacks
piles of bricks in the sand
scratching at the surface of cohesion

Ingenuity is the notion of building
On a foundation made from loss

Out in these arid expanses
where the Red Sea meets the sand
people dream of progress
made from humility
and the laughter of others
multi-colored dross scatter across the earth
like foreign shrubbery

We converse in codes of motion
Language signaling daily headway

Advice for the long haul.

Related Poems

Writing Home

An absence declares
its blunt self. I can’t believe the extent
of my luck, heard twice, like violets
in a bath of lukewarm water.
The city was my father’s though none
of its sweetness appears here living
before you. A strong instrument.
A blowing on the hands
and neck. A curtain almost open.
I inherited a stiff collar sewn
against loveliness where once
we must have walked freely into
the city square and gathered
there like an intention. Two lips bloomed
on my mother’s cheek. I felt
a heavenly peace. Here, the marker you
might have waited for: ancient
dough, rolled and fried. These days
the lyric’s sentiment floats
away from me. Like a river someone
forgets to bless. Memory, to memory,
to the dirt path opening
again in a dream. I have not been back
for so many years. I walk the distance
in my mind, the margins flowing by
like so much foreign water.

Animals Imagined

A boy on a horse,
a boy on a horse along a river.
Less simple—time intervenes thievish.
A boy on a horse in the rain along a river.
A picture emerges from mist—faint rain
hiding the regnant risk, arrowing rain,
boy lost on a horse in the rain along a river,
a high bluff beside water. Story:
the bit firm in the horse’s mouth
the hand of the boy unfirm.
What we played we played, dangerous
only in retrospect.
If it can be remembered
it was survived,
the era of imagined
horses in radiant landscape;
only the rivers remain.

This City I Come From

 

translated by Natascha Bruce

 

1. Two Worlds

this city I come from
when I come here
its deep recesses
wield twilight like a knife
slicing the world in two
the world begins with a slot machine
but its end is nowhere to be found
within the world
someone detonates the night
knocks at the gates of ruin
a flash of fortune
and the night is purgatory hot
in the city's heart
people and fire are as one
“Save me! Oh, save me!”
the flash bulbs no longer neutral no longer recording no longer capturing
“Save me! Oh, save me!”
chroniclers become victims
history can be like that
unclear whom to blame

beyond this world
unclear who belongs where
we remember only
after-dinner drinks
nighttime
within the world
chatting at a harbor-view bar
perfume fancy clothes hair spray and English-Chinese-Portuguese
mixing like makeup melted on a face
hard spirits at Opiarium
vodkas at Casablanca
ice cubes leaching color then spilling over with it
wave after wave of neon
faces mixed up like melted makeup
cologne-scented men raising glasses
to toast the slow procession of headlights
merry christmas and a happy new year
welcome back, happy reunion
happy twenty-first century
happy happy
down this drink and we're happy
amid the happy sounds
people sing raucously in Kun Iam’s bay
urinate beneath her lotus dais, a drunken stream
toss glasses in the water, an arc of laughter
at the harbor-view bar, our laughter drowns the song
atop her lotus dais
beautiful as a mermaid
out of place as concessions and colonies
history can be like that
while gods can switch their faces
we remain the same
 

2. The Last Night of Hotel Bela Vista
this city I come from
when I come here
at its high points
in an old sea-view building
Westerners are reminiscing
Chinese are disputing with foreigners
reunification or handover
we raise half-glasses of red wine
to mourn Bela Vista
thinking of a hundred-year-old hotel
on this new page of history
kept chaste as a young maiden
for a single representative of a single country
the jazz musician can't help but
play a sad postcolonial tune
waiters in starched white uniforms
approach the walkway’s pale-yellow pillars
to water oleanders redder than wine
the blossoms count lamp shadows
that come with the falling mist
misty recesses
obscure the lanterns at the end of the walkway
and high above
a white ceiling fan sheds no color
still as days not yet begun
there is no today, no tomorrow
no need to weep or say good-bye
but the days will start with this sad farewell song
before the tune is over
secret lovers drain their cups
dry, red-eyed glances saying
let’s keep hold of this night
let’s linger beneath the oleanders
like a clichéd war romance
history can be like that
a constant cycle of invasion and retreat
thinking of tomorrow
they return to the long table
forget that intoxicating floral scent
and with the red-jacketed musician in the background
sit as wooden as colonial ladies
among the glint of glasses
a silver knife traces scar after scar
men and women are careful, gracious
meat juices on snow-white porcelain are
slick, crimson
we clink glasses
drink up the scenery we cannot fall in love with
 

3. That’s how it goes
this city I come from
when I come here
across its wide expanses
the century says good-bye
to the insatiable desire of flash bulbs and zoom lenses
for shot after shot of wiped-away tears
gone then here again, here again then gone
the lone eye of the lighthouse must stay silent
he long since saw through
all this it's nothing but
the money-making game of the chroniclers and chronicled
when the lone eye blinks once again
beneath the flash bulbs and the zoom lenses
the Chinese Westerners Macanese will be as one
no disputes
chroniclers and chronicled as one
reunification, yes, reunification 
across the wide expanses
within the century
night mists whip darkness across the sky
the glimmer in the lone eye dims like God's glory
it can only rally, never meet
where the black mists settle
the night is as heavy as history
weighing on my eyes
it aches, how it aches
and I'm sleepy
thinking of before the mists
of the flash bulbs and zoom lenses
and the city they sought
but we
the chroniclers and the chronicled
in a flash, a few fleeting moments
forget that era
forget that city's name
to forget, oh, to forget
the chroniclers and the chronicled

this city I come from
has no name
that’s how it goes
neither do I
that’s how it goes