Poetry / March 2012 (Issue 16)

My Uniform is Dirty

by Arthur Leung

'Rain' uttered with a sigh, a wind through lips,
wu gu ren ends the verse – no more friends.[1]
Yang sounds like the name of my neighbour,
pencils a fly on my collar, I watch the whiteboard.
Yang-guan? A place once upon a time, teacher says
(not Yang-jiang daddy takes us for hot spring).

Teacher reads Li Bai, chuang qian ming yue guan.[2]
I think of nanny, the full moon above starfruit
lanterns, my wetting the bed next morning.
Home. I dig out the bluest pieces for the tower
of my Lego castle. Mom removes the books
from my schoolbag. Dinner finished, eight o’clock,
I do Chinese, write ten times the characters taught
today, dong and yue – "look like the sun rises
behind a tree, and a new moon with a sleeping face";

memorize the numbers: six eight forty eight,
six nine fifty four... chant the nine-nine table
as I watch my idol Kenny sing on TV.
Bell rings, I put away the drawing paper,
fingers soiled with crayon. Chinese teacher comes.
Chun ye xi yu, spring night welcomes rain.[3]
Tang poems, why always in the rain? Teacher
asks me to recite Du Fu, chi ri jiang shan li.[4]
"Think of the sky red, water and hills as ribbons."

I stand straight, read slowly aloud the words
like colour Lego bricks scattered on the floor,
not making up anything. I can’t see the moon.

[1] From the last line of Weicheng Song (渭城曲) by Wang Wei (699-761), a Chinese poet of the Tang dynasty. The whole line reads "西出陽關無故人" ("West of Yang-guan, no more old friends").
[2] The opening line of In the Quiet Night (靜夜思) by another Tang poet, Li Bai (701-762) – "床前明月光"  ("A gleam of moonlight on the foot of my bed").
[3] 春夜喜雨, by Du Fu (712-770).
[4] The opening line of a jueju (poem consisting of a matched pair of couplets with each line having five or seven syllables) by Du Fu – "遲日江山麗" ("The beautiful river and hills in late sun")
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