by Reid Mitchell
Editors' note: In collaboration with Health in Action, a Hong Kong charity that promotes community health and wellbeing through the empowerment of the underprivileged, Cha is publishing a special section of poetry on the theme of "Distance" in its June 2016 issue. The publication of this special section will coincide with Health in Action's Refugee Week Art Movement (week of 20 June 2016) to raise awareness for asylum seekers and refugees in Hong Kong. (20 June 2016 is World Refugee Day.)
“Could Send Not Receive” by Nick Admussen
Past a chapped stone, moss-furred stone,
to the missing stone, then turn—
Initially, "Could Send Not Receive" seems to invite the reader into a place or a journey through a place. But soon we realise we are invited, instead, to become another person.
along the newspaper stand where your cousin
has made a hundred thousand beautiful
offset-printed cotton-weave US dollars
Who you are and where you wander, however, remain mysterious. You will only learn you arrive at "a fallow pasture."
Cha published the poem because we enjoyed the trip.
“Ahmed's Chimera” by Paola Caronni
"Ahmed's Chimera," more than any other poem in this section, immediately confronts not only distance but flight. But it first caught me up in its sound—just the title with its opening and closing "ah's" for example, and that "chi" plunked square in the middle. It is a retelling of a story we have read so many times, and you may have read this morning in today's news, but which is also one of the oldest in the West, that of a refugee in the Mediterranean. Remember Odysseus?
“Corcovado in Vancouver” by Desirée Jung
"Corcovado in Vancouver" presents us with the sojourner, whose country doesn't even make the news where she now lives, but for whom everything reminds her of home. Of course. Everything similar reminds you of home, as does everything different, and there is nothing in-between. Anyway, the poet grabbed me with, "Sky train sliding on the rails ..."
“The Torn Minutes” by Desirée Jung
After we judges made our selections and the authors were revealed, I was surprised but happy to discover we had picked two poems by one poet. The second poem by Desirée Jung was the prose poem "The Torn Minutes." With precise and humble details, it examines the holes torn in language when you move to a country with another language. What do you call "tomate, abacate, pepino" when you live in Canada? "Tomato, avocado, cucumber." Very good. Now, what food do you prepare with them, after you have washed them twice?
“Soul Words” by Troy Cabida
Let's face it. "Soul Words" starts gorgeously, sensually and suspiciously, with its image and even more so its sound. "It's not the hair free flowing or the South East Asian sun kissed skin." And yet, even as the richness invites us into the poem, some of us might pause, worried about Orientalism. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we think she—or he, why not he? but it turns out to be she—is beautiful and sexy and exotic. The volta that keeps us from going down that rabbit hole is the second stanza when we learn we are on the tube going from Whitechapel to Stepney Green (which, I admit, sounds pretty damn exotic to me). Whatever fantasy the poet permits himself, the beloved warns him, "London's turned my lovemaking downright rusty ..." and she longs for home.
“pa wears a sweatshirt, ma carries a golden purse” by Jedd Ong
One good thing about having a second judge to second-guess me is that it reassures me that this poem appeals to me not solely because of my love for Fujian and the Fujianese Disapora. I like poets that start by seeming to contradict themselves:
this poem has a beginning as you'd expect it:
by the dinner table eating, pa wearing
his sweatshirt and ma slinging her golden purse; the funny thing's i never
used to call them "pa," "ma" always found them too cowboy-ish,
un-me the whole grand shebang we who sit
Ah yes, "Ma" and "Pa" are cowboy-ish—as are "slinging" and "shebang"—but the poet has renounced the renunciation of cowboy ways.
This poem is a long, familial journey through space and time, passing from the Mainland and Manila and landing us in a very identifiable Hong Kong location—the Sunday dinner table.
“Autumn Garden” by Cameron Morse
We leave with "Autumn Garden," a final snapshot of a refugee. What drew me to this poem was how visual, how precise it is, how well we see Lili. Yet again, I take refuge in the sound the poet give us: moisturises / the cracked-chrysalis leaves / of Missouri. Nonetheless, knowing Missouri and being North American, I appreciate for myself how much refugees give to us who foolishly think that, in welcoming, only we are giving.