Hong Kong Contest / December 2015 (Issue 30)

Sunset, Kowloon

by Mantz Yorke

After JMW Turner's painting "Peace – burial at sea" (1842)

You don't pay the ferryman these days:
place your Octopus card on the sensor
and the barrier lets you through
to the Evening Star. A ticket to Kowloon,
even first class, doesn't cost much—
little more than a dollar an eye.
The lozenge-shaped boat lurches
as we cross wakes of barges, launches,
container ships and tugs: queasy,
I fix firmly on the terminal ahead.

From Kowloon, the city opposite
has grown upwards like crystals
in waterglass, its gold-tipped high-rises
stretching into the indifferent air.
A tourist boat, vestigially junk-rigged
at prow and stern, stands out
into the channel, Turnerish black
against the buildings’ greys. Sinking
through the murk, the reddening sun
rehearses an inevitable bloated death.

 This is the winner of Second Prize in Cha's "Hong Kong" Poetry Contest. Mantz Yorke on "Sunset, Kowloon": I was lucky enough to visit Hong Kong a few years ago. I enjoy landscape photography, and the city offered me a multitude of possibilities—far more than I had time to pursue. The crossing to Kowloon inspired the poem "Sunset, Kowloon"—in particular, the blackness of the tourist boat silhouetted against the sinking sun (it is an optical illusion that the sun appears to swell as it nears the horizon) reminded me of the sailing ship in Turner's painting's "Peace—Burial At Sea"—and also of Monet's painting of the port of Le Havre, "Impression, Sunrise", with its dull red sun glowing through the murk and small black boats in the foreground. In the far distant future, the sun will swell to become a red giant large enough to swallow the Earth, before cooling into death. The poem hints that humankind's existence on Earth is precarious and cannot continue forever. [Read Jason Eng Hun Lee's commentary on "Sunset, Kowloon"] [Back to "Hong Kong Contest"]
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