Poetry / April 2018 (Issue 39)

Seven Poems

by Ng Mei-kwan, translated from Chinese by Bonnie S. McDougall

—Everything is false and may not be seen to be true

If trust
Is waiting for a long underground train
The repeated announcement, 'Please do not cross the yellow line'
Is an inert noise not a warning
You obediently refrain from crossing the yellow line
Your fixed gaze seems like a firm belief
In a tranquil empty plot
Not open to doubt (but there's no time for thought)
The train rushes to make its appearance
Whether on time or in time
All doors simultaneously open like a law of nature
Crossing for only a second doesn't count as crossing
Just a swift and direct retreat
This you trust

And thus you wait
As if expecting a long underground train
Harbouring fervent hopes
It's hard to avoid a natural curiosity prompting
A step on the yellow line
Craning your head toward the dark silent cave to seek news
The breeze from the air-con fan rumples your hair
And deepens your long suppressed doubts
'Please do not cross the yellow line'
The repeated announcement seems still to be in force
Its monotonous shallow content
Urges you once again to cross
—an abrupt alert
Two railway tracks stretch along the earth
Like a rusty sword inserted into the earth's lung
A sternly threatening warning
Seems to seep through the bone-chilling air-con
'Do not cross the yellow line'
Before slightly shifting a step you examine with care
A trace of blood
Lingering indistinctly in the ditch below the platform

Like a distant history
Of long-standing TB plus overwork, neither treated not cured
Under your unintentional gaze
The cave's palate splits opens
Coughs out steaming hot, salty
Blood plasma from the scalding earth's core
The station collapsed with a bang
The people waiting for the train have no time to be alarmed
In the middle of the flooding mighty torrent
Cries for help and rescue are too late to be of help
In a trance only absolute extermination
Will create orderly rules
Flooding hopes and despair
If still waiting

A long underground train
Reaches the station
Everyone files sideways into the carriage and becomes
Every tightly drawn face
Without exhibiting expression        but confirming
No catastrophe has happened and there are no dead
They coexist simply
Each longing for a short, speedy, smooth and stable
Journey back
What emerges unceasingly from the underground train
Is this


In the context of our nation's history
it could be a teachers' guide to a high school textbook

In the context of Hong Kong and related matters
it could be trying to quote a comment (learnt by heart, in standard English) on Western history

In the context of one's home, or residence, or family origins
it could be displaying a foreign-style house, a clan genealogy, a local gazetteer
instead of telling stories or holding anniversaries

But it could also be unrolling a foolish map
looking at absurdly overlapping land and waves
tracing connections between names and spaces
seeking a true fragrant river

Translator's note:
The accompanying illustration from the "Grand World Map," drawn by Luo Hongxian (1504-564) in 1555, lacks the accuracy of modern maps but in its imaginative reconstructions may yield a better understanding of names and places. One of the early names for Hong Kong (literally, fragrant harbour) was Hung Kong (literally, red river).


Wandering ghosts, scattered for three thousand years,
Dreams of the central plain, chasing deer
From the aspect of history
Peel the skin of a fragrant pear
Clear and crisp flesh of the face
Had given way
To a younger brother, swarthy and robust, insatiably avaricious
There is no throne because of one person’s longevity
Whether lengthened or shortened
Longing for a loving heart
Hidden behind a painted mica screen and candlelight window
Again gather and scatter
Like the two stars that never meet in the same sky
Because someone without authorization changed
A handful of numbers
Writing must be unified
A teacher who writes notes and adds commentary
Concerning plans to arouse the country or lose the country
The beautiful woman who every morning paints her brows
Not yet fifty years old
The power of Lady Xu's charm
Still exists in middle age
Refuse to acknowledge
A passion
That has been let slip away
In the end was there or not a suicidal conspiracy to invade?
Today, after so many years,
People eating potato crisps, drinking soft drinks, looking at plays
Begin to wear face-masks
To prevent unidentified
Who would believe that the faces of emperors, generals and ministers
Easily become a television drama
It's a mess that's already been cleared


On the fourth morning of continuous rain
No-one could tell when the sunshine
Would spill back inside from the terrace
And I dependent on the light that blends in silently to the world
Reading as usual a magazine about religion and philosophy
I glanced across at my sixteen-month-old daughter
Turning over the pages in her small picture book
She seemed to ponder concentrating doubting
Its lifelike but complicated pictures and script
Then read out a word distinctly pronounced but whose meaning remained obscure

The noisy crows retreat from view beyond the glass door
The wind at rest strokes its tree partner lightly
They find the mystery of life among the raindrops

The grass in the yard breathes deeply and freely
Accumulated moisture condenses and matures
It spreads all around one step a time exploring
The expanded softened mud
Is making every hair and every cell
Enjoy its perfect care and precious succor
Joyously outpouring, opening, unfolding, extending

Within the high fence's three sides
Guarding each corner
A mother and daughter are growing
In transparent love and wisdom

Written in Epping, Sydney
31 January 1997


Only a young couple at Tsing Yi Pier
Before dawn
Only wind
Blowing past their heads
Past a sturdy
Leather travel bag
That they discovered
They pulled open the zipper
Pulling open the infant's lifelong labour

Had hidden him in the darkness
Wrapped him
Like a pearl waiting to grow
A clam nourished in water
An embryo in a womb
She sat on the pot sobbing
On the seat that belonged only to her
Her waters broke, spotted with blood
Like a melon split open
That could not be healed
Because someone
Had pulled open her lips
With force with desire

Like a zipper pulled open
Like a monorail train
On watch for a dark silvergrass cave
After passing through dread and resistance
It was opened as far as it would go
Then immediately pulled up
In a airless leather pouch

A newly born infant
Sleeps in its bag as if about to travel far
Knowing only how to cry

News report 31 October 2006: Before dawn a 26-year-old person surnamed Lin and a friend discovered a travel bag near the jetty at Tsing Yi, inside which was a two-month-old abandoned infant.


It looks like this
Air that needs to flow
Between one tree and another
Wind that dredges worldly customs
By releasing the power of heat from blazing sunlight
It discharges pressure towards the flattened earth
These flattened shadows
With no eyes or nose
Cannot bear unreasoned force
A pool of dark blood gushes forth
As rolling wheels
Dry them to a state beyond help

Barely ninety-nine trees
Are left in the city
Then ten trees
Or, still standing green

That tree
The sole survivor
Endures by the roadside
A preposterous position

Between one leaf and another in the tree's crown
Are positioned the others' jealous grudges
In the blink of an eye
Each drifting body
Like one idea in competition against another
Waits for the next morning’s street-cleaner, awakened from dreaming
Sweeping away a basketful of theories

Leaving the branch early one morning
A solitary yellow leaf
Sobs as it lies on the road shoulder

For the sake of the clamorous tree
It refuses to admit
That in fact
There's not even a tree


Tomorrow as always pushing past
The block of people leaving work
I'll steer my way clear through the entrance

I'll trust as always I can text you whenever I please
Greet you
Kiss you
Show you my passionate love

The subway as always will yawn and cough up
The city’s workers
Out of the surging earth
I'll have as always no plans for a date with you

Thoughts of you
Will be tossed into fragments by a van racing past
Without even time for a whimper
It will be immediately flushed away by time
Because of the rain

Hidden below the greyish flaking balcony
I'll peer at the city's film posters
The body on a slimming ad
Proclaims a consumer's love story
Each covers over another
My wishes come each after another
But none is about you
Should there be one
It would be the first at the bottom

At first
I left my emotional umbrella alone at home
Believing as always
It would always be there
Should be there
Definitely there
At no time not
At that place
Waiting for my summons and assignment

Clutching one umbrella
Two people
One figure seen from behind
The shoulder of his checked shirt
Is dripping wet
Because of the rain

On days when the sun shines brightly
Whether the umbrella
Is or isn't open
Could but may not be important
It could resist ultraviolent rays
It could be attractive and practical
It could or couldn't matter in the least

Your existence is
Like an umbrella being open
Like posters displayed by the roadside
The colour of the stripes across your torso
Is strong and true
It will withstand ruthless assault
It must quickly be collected and folded
Or else mounted in a frame

Because of the rain
The cars go past unheeding
Along the joined lines left on the road
My dark mood is left behind
Before the traffic light changes signs
Its brilliance is abruptly reduced
No-one pays attention
To the danger

It's because of the rain being too heavy
An excuse again as always for this disinclination to go home

These seven poems appear in Ng Mei Kwan's Chinese-language collection Shijian de jingzhi [Time's Standstill], Hong Kong 2009. The Chinese titles and pagination of the poems are:

Belief 相信 Xiangxin (pp. 78-79)
Hermeneutics 解釋學 Jieyixue (p. 73)
The First Emperor 秦始皇 Qin shi huang (pp. 74-75)
The Fourth Morning 第四個上午 Di-si ge shangwu (pp. 48-49)
The Zipper 拉鍊 Lalian (pp. 66-67)
When The Trees Fall 樹倒 Shu dao (pp. 18-19)
Because of the rain 因為雨的緣故 Yinwei yu de yuangu (pp. 36-39)


Ng Mei-kwan and Bonnie S. McDougall

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