Poetry / August 2008 (Issue 4)

Three Poems

by Louise Ho

A Veteran Talking

We tossed them high into the air
And caught them coming down,
Sliding straight through
The tips of our bayonets.
Babies cry in any case,
But the women, oh, the women,
They made such a racket;
Had to quieten them down:
That was more bayonet practice.

We had our instructions, we had to clear the place.
We got rid of the men first, one way or another.
As for the women, we did our manly thing with them first,
Anywhere, behind doorways, in the middle of the streets,
Anytime, morning, afternoon, night,
Then we got rid of them, just as efficiently.

It took only a few days
For us to get into a routine.

We did what had to be done:
Shooting, knifing, hanging, burning,
Whatever was necessary to keep order
In a disorderly city.

After about eight weeks
We succeeded in quelling the ruckus.
It was much hard work:
Unending vigilance and continual practice.
Finally the city surrendered.
It was slightly more manageable, for by then
We had cut the population by half or more.

Even so, there was no letting up
For us the Occupying Force.
Unswervingly, we had to keep out cogs oiled,
Our tanks running, our dignity unsoiled.

(Homage to Iris Chang, author of The Rape Of Nanking, 1997, with much sadness at her early death.)

Incense Tree
Aquilaria Sinensis

Incense root incense fruit
Incense loading at the port:
Groves of incense trees
Lined the harbour once
At Aberdeen.

Joss sticks, agarwood, potions, scents,
Thriving commerce
Export trade
That once was,
Gave “Hong Kong” its name:
Incense Port, and its fame.

Truly fragrant truly harbour,
But not the
Exoticised “fragrant harbour”:
Incense Port its true name.

Heung not Hong
Gong not Kong;
In any case
Transliteration into English sounds
Of monosyllabic tonal Chinese
Is alchemy in reverse
Changing all that is gold
Into dross, loss and mockery.

Poachers come on hacking sprees
From China with saws, axes and carts,
Depleting our incense trees
That did thrive in these parts.
Aquilaria Sinensis
The Chinese Incense Tree
Is to-day endangered species.


The people flowed,
Like so much water between gorges,
As they poured through
The main arteries of the city.

It is another July the first.
Under a scorching sun
Hemmed in by towering city blocks
They walked.
There were placards and banners and drums.
People chanted in unison,
Alternating between
“One, two, three,
Down with Article 23” and
“One, two, three,
Down with Tung Chee-hwa”.
People from upper windows
Waved and clapped.
A policeman was seen
Chanting along.

Young parents pushed their young in prams.
They said,
One day we will tell him
He was here this day.

An elderly man was failing.
Supporting him, his daughter-in-law
Rang the chauffeur
To bring up the car
And meet them at the next corner.

The young, the old, with friends, family or alone;
The poor, the rich, professionals, workers, others,
They walked:
Each person giving the other space,
United in one purpose,
Five hundred thousand marchers
Moved on without incident,
Unhurried, unruffled, undeterred.

(Article 23 of the Basic law requires the Hong Kong Government to enact laws against sedition, subversion, secession and other security issues. The laws proposed by the Government, known as the "Article 23 Bill" was hugely unpopular. There was a large turn-out at the march protesting against the Bill on 1 July 2003. Subsequently, the Bill was withdrawn. Regina Yip, Secretary for Security, who passionately advocated the Bill resigned, as did Tung Chee-hwa, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong.)

Editors' note: A review of Louise Ho's Incense Tree: Collected Poems is available in issue #7 of Cha. You can read another review of the book by Cha co-editor Tammy Ho here.

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