Hong Kong Contest / December 2015 (Issue 30)


Close Quarters, 1962

by Janice Ko Luo

My neighbour transports her dinner
home from the soup noodle stall
in a tin canister, swinging
it by her leg like a lantern
up the slender staircase.
You, slicked back hair and skinny tie
on your way down, just grazing
the yellow silk of her
cheongsam with your fingertip.

The only requirement to touch
is within these narrow spaces
that seem to be everywhere.
We choose to live on top
of each other, presence averted
constantly by the thinnest
of floorboards and walls.

Each long and dirty hallway
bereft of mirrors and light.
Outside the air is damp
and paralyzed with desire.
Yet we are not here
to say the unspeakable.

Thirty times – I counted,
the mosquito
knifed my bare legs.
You, not bitten once.


 This is the winner of Third Prize in Cha's "Hong Kong" Poetry Contest. Janice Ko Luo on "Close Quarters, 1962": I was watching Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love and inspired by his ability to create interior emotional states through the visuals of confined physical spaces and garments. In these restrictive urban spaces that not only describe the apartments and alleyways of Hong Kong in 1962, but places such as Manhattan today, the desire to connect is ever present but repressed just below the surface. Particularly in that era, social classes and norms dictated so many barriers to interaction. But even today, we are conditioned to not see each other; and these types of chance encounters in close quarters take on a different meaning. At the time of writing the poem, I was also thinking about betrayal. Which is better—unfulfilled or fulfilled desire? It's sometimes maddening to think of the consequences or lack of consequences that different people experience much like the film's characters, and the mosquito who just finds one person's blood sweeter than another—leaves one person unscathed and another scarred. [Read Jason Eng Hun Lee's commentary on "Close Quarters, 1962"] [Back to "Hong Kong Contest"]
 
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