Poetry / August 2009 (Issue 8)

Two Poems

by Ng Yi-Sheng

Wang Shi, or The Traitor's Wife

Should your word betray the Emperor,
          out of envy, out of empathy for Mongols,

may a roadside hawker, furious at the news,
          name us as two strips of dough;

cast us in a vat of oil, all screaming,
          tell the hungry clustered by the green

forbidden walls: "Behold the lovers
          seared in fat,

one sweaty ligament of skin," then fish us out 
          to cut our necks in twain,

to plunge in broth or soya milk. O may 
          the porous pockets of our flesh

absorb the fluid, may our error feed 
          the mouths of ages, drown the belly's anger,

may your guilt be never swallowed
          cold or separate from my love.

(Note: The Song Dynasty official Qin Hui (1090-1155) and his wife Wang Shi (sometimes known as Lady Wang) are widely reviled as traitors, as they were responsible for the execution of the Chinese military hero and poet Yue Fei.)

The Queen of the Night

My mother begins the theme
to Shanghai Tan. I bum-bum-bum
my way along with her. Somewhere
somehow this becomes The Magic Flute.
She is my counterpoint.
My father drives through darkness.
I play the waiting game:
soon she will laugh,
break out of Cantonese into silence,
business English.
We pass the fairground lights.
I lose the thread: I do not truly love the opera.
That smile upon her face, my mother
conquers now the second verse, the third.
My father turns a corner,
hits a button, infrareds the gates.
The crashing waves, the rushing waves.
My mother finishes,
and we're home.

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