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
Originally published in the August 2018 issue of Words Without Borders. Copyright © Agnes Lam. Used with permission of the author. Translation © 2018 by Natascha Bruce. All rights reserved.
Scholar and poet Agnes Lam is the author of three poetry collections, A Pond in the Sky: Selected and New Poems (Association of Stories in Macao, 2013), Water Wood Pure Splendour (Asia 2000, 2001), and Woman to Woman and Other Poems (Asia 2000, 1997), as well as the chapbook Poppies by the Motorway (Chinese University Press, 2018).
Date Published: 2018-09-12
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/city-i-come