Hong Kong Poets Under 40 / November 2012 (Issue 19)

Nicholas Wong

 Nicholas Wong received his MFA at the City University of Hong Kong and is the author of Cities of Sameness. He is a finalist of New Letters Poetry Award and a semi-finalist of the Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize. He is on the editorial board of Drunken Boat and Mead: Magazine of Literature and Libations. Corgis are his favorite human breed. [Website]


Poetry should take risks and embrace chaos. The pleasure of writing and reading poems relies heavily on how the chaos is rendered and how language reinvents itself in lines. Writing is experimenting; not every experiment works. But as Dean Young has said, "The world won’t become any worse if one more poem is written."


Postcolonial Zoology
1997, Hong Kong, returning to China

It’s not the pedigreed corgis they left
at the handover, but the effigy of the Queen
on toothed stamps being self-important

in dusted albums. We bolted to banks to trade
for new coins. We went to the West, away
from communist coxswains, but were whittled

to sculptures called ‘second-tier citizens’,
second to terriers. Our being could start
a chapter in zoology: we’re inedible

bilingual centaurs spreading swine flu
at the turn of century, we’re comrades
of a blue whale found ashore due to sonic

confusion, caribous on a cruise to Malibu.
Even what we remembered migrated to corners
invisible in brain scan. In Mandarin Oriental,

India, a TV host devoured British scones
and circumscribed cucumber sandwiches
on his sun porch that looked over to rice fields.

A butler next to him. He called the experience
authentic. So were the bees buzzing in their air,
sick of their queen too lazy to move.
("Postcolonial Zoology" was first published in POOL.)

Museum of Anagapesis

A normal heart weighs 350g. Consider living
without one. Organs migrate, have new roles.
Kidneys pumping blood, pancreas counting

pulses, fluidity of grief sluicing forth and
back with lymph – it’s called evolution.
The Chinese eat animal viscera, shapes

supplementing shapes. Grilled duck hearts
on skewers, each a pendant, edible
confinement. What’s locked in the four

chambers if not sufferance crispy, sauced,
stories otherwise too cooked to be told.
Leave the heart to the past and the past

to a museum, 3/F, west wing, where it finds
its neighbors, all ill of systole. The hall
savaged by legato vibrato, a sound-

scape narrating the pain of being caged too
long by ribs. Long too are the ribs, curving
inward like brackets to brace less and loss.

("Museum of Anagapesis" was first appeared in Baltimore Review.)

Trio with Hsia Yü


I entered the wrong room
and missed my reincarnation.

That baby kicked, cried, skin
so thin, also transparent that

capillaries beneath revealed
the purple pumping of life.

I stood over the mother’s
shoulder, seeing her kiss

the baby’s forehead. That sound
of the lips should be mine.


Use a pen to write on the body,
then use the body to bind

the heart. Roll the heart
over a few pages of grammar

and see whose rules are cruder.
Use a ruler to assess the percentage

of atrium that averts the other,
then use it to outline a safety

zone. Undo what’s done to get
a pen, but don’t draw in dotted lines.


You lost your childhood in an amusement
park. At the popcorn stand,

electric heat altered oval seeds
to irregularity. The clown said he ran

out of paper cones, so you ran
away from happiness. Even the helium

fled from foil balloons, flaccid
like red blood cells under microscope.

You withdrew your faith in butter
& caramel, invested in karma

& Buddhist cycles, because i-bankers
said China’s an up-and-comer.

You learned the art of stop
loss, you tried to retrieve

the loss in adulthood, in adultery.
My carotid crooked when you drilled a pole

into my skull & made me your carousel.

("Trio with Hsia Yü" was first published in American Letters & Commentary (Parts 1 & 2) and Hawai’i Pacific Review (Part 3). The poem adapts lines from Hsia Yü’s Chinese poetry collection Ventriloquy, Wong's own translation.)

For Bei Dao

His alias means a northern island,
where he traverses back and forth

siren | serenade
sorrow | surreal

where he frees lassoed lexemes
that are screened at home, an imaginary –

where and what if not cognominal
of denial.

Truncation, behead the “dis-”,
display the rest, so everyone

sees it as “quiet” and “play”.

(“For Bei Dao” was first published in J Journal: New Writing on Justice.)

R (ode)

"One letter is enough…"
Liu Xiaobo

Before my bed
there is bright moonlight

Before my bed there is bright

my bed there is bright moonlight

Before my bed there
bright moonlight

Beforrre my bed therrre is brrright moonlight

Before my bed,
I hang an ‘R’ in a wooden frame,

As a sign of good faith,
Like Jesus always looking down

From a symbol taken seriously by those
Who believe in the Bible as they do in history .

I believe in the R,

Because it is the way they speak,
Because it is not the way I speak,

Because it is the way we should speak.
We should celebrate the R,

In our accent, not in English,
But in Beijing Mandarin,

Not the type spoken by Taiwanese,
Or Hong Kongese.

Every night, I gaze at the letter
As if it were the moon.

But how different are they?
For numerous nostalgic nights,

Li Po saw his home
In the milky moon,

Or the reflection of it
On a nameless lake.

So I gaze at the R
Until its outline blurs in my tired eyes

And resembles a continent,
In which billions of us reside.

We celebrate the alphabet, we celebrate our tongue,
We celebrate the rolling of our tongue

When we roll it like a postgraduate diploma,
We celebrate the beauty of rhoticity,

We celebrate the way we speak,
We celebrate our utterances, full of ferocious velocity.

We steal the R from New Yorkers,
We steal it from the British who are not quite using it.

We steal it from F ank O’Ha a,
We steal it from  obe t F ost.

We save it in our mouth, the safest place for treasure.
When we speak, it bestows us a blade

That cuts rocks into pieces,
That opens all ears and makes them listen.

    Before my bed
there is bright moonlight
    so that it seems
like frost on the ground:

    lifting my head
I watch the bright moon
    lowering my head
I dream that I’m

home, calling, standing still,
commanding me to go forth –

a plane lands, the world magnifies
outside windows, all now getting real
in December snow, covering
a cityscape unseen before;

a woman congratulates me
on safe landing in Mandarin.
A congratulation, I guess.  
I can only catch the Welcome and China;
between the two words she slurs,
over-pronouncing the Rs.

I used never to understand the language.
My passport says I belong legally
to the United States of America. In the aisle,
I wait for the gate to open

Li Po is not a poet; he is my friend,
A biochemistry engineer from Cornell.

His grandpa named him
After the wise man of words

Because words are what
Young Asian Americans need.

Li Po is not a poet; his friends are all
Americans. In the bar, they ask him

To recite a Chinese poem.
But he says he knows only

The molecular structure of paper
And density of graphite.

Li Po is not a poet, but as most poets do,
He looks less lifelike.

On the plane, he imagines grandpa’s corpse
And the village he never visits,

Both looking like the clouds outside,
Being there with a shape he cannot

Name. Soon, he will arrive,
Welcomed by a language made

Up of strokes and brushes. Even the period
Is a circle, not a casual dot, as if

There is something in every closure,
Every death.

After the funeral, after the hole
On the ground is filled

By a casket and the same earth,
Everyone goes home,

Which, to Li Po, is dual.
He has a home fourteen hours behind,

Oceans apart, and another one
That now calls upon his black hair

And yellow skin. This home, where
Grandpa practices tai chi

Before the day dawns, is always his home.
Li Po follows his aunts and uncles

To the village, hidden behind green
Fields. They show him grandpa’s

Room. On the desk, he finds copies
Of Tang poetry, dusted and tea-stained.

He flips the pages, filled with the old man’s
Translation, indelible.

This evening, fog blankets the hills,
The dogs too hungry to howl.

He reads the verse out loud, verbatim,
Hoping to  

Beforrre my bed
    therrre is brrright moonlight
so that it seems
    like frrrost on the grrround:

lifting my head
    I watch the brrright moon
lowerrring my head
    I drrream that I’m home.
("R (ode)" was first published in Drunken Boat.)
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