Poetry / June 2014 (Issue 24)

Three Poems from Ancestral Worship

by David McKirdy


Mr. Lee the shoe-shine boy
is a proud man
still working at 82
still paying his way.
He'll shine my shoes for free
because I give him 'face'
calling him 'Uncle'
conversing, showing respect.

We're both immigrants
he from Indonesia
me from Scotland.
His generation made Hong Kong
today his clients read a paper
send a text
or gaze mutely at the top of his head.
He says I see into his heart
"Sir, what's your name?" he asks
"Chiu Chow Gum" I reply.
This is a euphemism for
crater-faced son of a bitch!

"That's a fine name" he says,
"No one will forget you."

I accept the gift of shiny shoes
and reciprocate with tea-money.
He claims to be the finest shiner in Hong Kong
he's certainly the best psychologist
I pay fifty bucks over the odds
and leave a happy man.


An elderly man approached
asking about a toilet for his wife
such a lovely old lady
how could I leave her in distress?
“Come Auntie
you’re welcome to use my home.”

As I turned, one became two
Two became five and finally nine
all queued up and smiling
with me handing out soap and towels
like a washroom attendant in a massage parlour
then the questioning began.

No one expects the Chinese inquisition!
Forget name, rank and serial number
these are no mere amateurs
Cantonese aunties are better
than The KGB at getting results.
age, place of birth
do I own, or rent
how much per month
married, how many children?
I could have stood a beating
but they were much too subtle for that
calling me by name and talking in turn.
I managed to hang on to my one testicle
and annual salary
but only because their bus was leaving.

But they know where I live
and they’ll be back!

In Hong Kong, Dreaming of Cairo

We came to Cairo to see her treasures
and saw the people.
Forget the pyramids
the real jewels are among those
whose forbears built them.

Encountering beggars cheats and robbers
we felt right at home
having contributed an additional
eleven Bohemian rogues to their numbers.

In the chaos of Cairo’s
persistent perpetual anarchy
a few prodigal poems -
my offspring -
escaped in a lady’s bag.
I hope they find their way
to safety
to the heart of the city
to be adopted and absorbed
like so many through time
from Nubia, Greece, Rome
Arabia, Turkey, France
now Hong Kong.

Louche decadent Cairo
nobody gets out of here untouched
and the echo of the muezzin’s call
will forever draw me back
pulling like a persistent child
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