The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Category: Poetry

The Darkness

(This is post is backdated, written on 23rd July, 2016)

Being one step behind
when chasing the sun
is all that’s needed
to be steeped in darkness
and mired in the shadow of

Those, bright eyed and
fixated on the light,
forget they cast shadows
on those trailing them
who chase the same fire that

Do gleam so pretty,
these are our dreams
with passions that burn
but do give no heat
as we fear dying cold and in ignominy.

 

<– DAY 2

DAY 4 –>

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Don’t fix anything or else everything breaks

These nights,
where we had always slept
turned away from each other,
averse to each other’s excessive heat,
we turn towards each other,
afraid that the next morning
you would not turn any more,

until one or both of us fall asleep
and then, inevitably, we
turn away from each other,
averse to each other’s excessive heat,
as we had always done.

And then the broken light was fixed
that leaky tap tightened
the closet door with the wobbly hinge
all tightened
a shelf you had said for months you were going to install
now proudly stands, affixed to the wall,
bearing loads
like your shoulders

that flex with strength
as you hammer nails into wood,
emptying your strength into that
bookshelf you were building
before you are emptied of strength.

But I would rather the lights stay broken
taps leaky
closet door wobbly
wooden planks leaning against the walls of the shed
collecting dust
that build up
each
day
that you ignore them
that could have gone on indefinitely.

“You’re useless at being handy,”

“You’re useless at being tactful,”

“Who has time for pleasantries?”

“We have all the time in the world,”

You have all the time in the world.”

“That’s a lot of time to have, in the world.”

“My world is a lot smaller than yours.”

“But your world is mine. You’re in my world.”

“That’s why mine fits in yours.”

“That’s something we write for white people”

chowmein

I know, I am super late to the game. Everyone worth his or her salt and MSG has already written about Calvin Trillin’s piece about Chinese food “Have They Run Out of Provinces Yet?” in the New Yorker.

I was quite nonplussed at his poem; it was a fairly tasteless poem, at best skirting around blandly with race while trying to give the impression that it was edgy and exciting. However, I was rather intrigued by the second stanza.

Now, as each brand-new province appears,
It brings tension, increasing our fears:
Could a place we extolled as a find
Be revealed as one province behind?
So we sometimes do miss, I confess,
Simple days of chow mein but no stress,
When we never were faced with the threat
Of more provinces we hadn’t met.
Is there one tucked away near Tibet?
Have they run out of provinces yet?

I’ll explain why that stanza piqued my interest after this fun story:

Near where I live, there’re a couple of Chinese takeout places. One claimed to be Hunan, but was probably about as Hunan as Trillin’s piece was insightful. Maybe the owners were indeed from Hunan, and that Hunan takeout restaurant merely meant “Hunan people making Chinese American food for people”. In fact, my neighbourhood being primarily Caribbean, Haitian and African American, their best seller, aside from General Tso Chicken Special, was actually fried chicken wings with french fries. Every time I go in there and wait for my order, most of the clientele would order “Fried Chicken Wing w FF”. I was probably the only one who bothers to look at the menu.

One night, after work, I was feeling kinda lazy and I just wanted Chinese takeout. As anyone in the U.S. knows, on Chinese takeout menus, under the noodles section there are usually “chow mein” dishes. I had no idea what chow mein was exactly, but since I speak Mandarin, I assumed it was simply fried noodles, because it sounds like “chao mian” (炒面). In my experience of ordering fried noodles, they’re usually fried wheat or egg noodles. So I went up to the acrylic-shielded counter and ordered in Mandarin, “I’ll have an order of barbecue pork fried noodles (叉烧炒面), number 18.”

She responded back in Mandarin, “Number 18? Oh you want fried rice vermicelli (炒米粉, chao mi fen)?”

I was confused. I asked, “Hang on, doesn’t number 18 say ‘chow mein’? That’s fried (wheat/egg) noodles, right?”

“Ohh. no,” she said. “That ‘chow mein’ is simply something we write for white people. While ‘chow mein’ does sound like fried noodles, it actually refers to rice vermicelli here. White people order ‘chow mein’ and get rice vermicelli and they don’t know the difference anyway.”

“Ah, I see. Uh, ok, so can I get the barbecue pork fried vermicelli then?”

“Sure thing.”

“So who orders the chow mein if most of the people here order fried chicken wings and french fries?”

“White people.”

“Oh, I see.”

“Simple days of chow mein but no stress,/When we never were faced with the threat/Of more provinces we hadn’t met.”? Trillin, I was pretty stressed out ordering that chow mein. I went into that Hunan takeout place expecting to go home with an order of fried egg noodles and left with an order of fried rice vermicelli instead. I’m not sure if universally in New York chow mein is always rice vermicelli, because some of my friends attest to them actually getting egg noodles, but they always order in English. In another Chinese eatery (cha chan teng) in Chinatown, I saw a sign for chow mein, but it was thankfully accompanied by the Chinese characters for rice vermicelli. I confidently ordered the chow mein this time expecting rice vermicelli.

It’s hard enough to be an expert on Chinese food, even as a Chinese person. But Trillin, when you claim that life might have been better in the simple chow mein days, I’m afraid you’ve simply been eating rice vermicelli all along, and it’s hard for me to take you seriously.

Listening Comprehension: Fill in the empty spaces. (27 marks)

Lines

I cast a line, and I waited, not expecting a response.
But, lo! A bite!
You called me by a familiar name, a name from a time thought foregone.
I reeled; could it be?
That no matter the time lapsed, distance spanned, silences met,
that things were as they should have been?
But I knew better: time ravages, distance cools, silence forgets
And pulled in to meet with trembling hands and a clamoring heart.

Captain

You spoke of how you thrashed, how you were lashed
by forces that had you trundled, trussed, and tried.
Blinded beyond belief, beyond benefaction — barking madness.
Bye,” you said, as I remembered, back then,
back when you cast yourself afloat.
And I cried as I heard your tale,
sorrowed that I could not sail with you
during your stormy seas.

Colours

“Have you heard about colours?” you asked.
“They can be quite therapeutic,” you said
through a new veil of age and wisdom.
And so I sat in silence for hours,
drawing out lines and figures
dashing out spaces
despite my cramping hand
(whilst you worked),
so that I could give you something to fill in with colours
to repair the missing gaps in our lives.

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Corporeal Property

The coldness of your touch
makes me think that rigor mortis must follow
and indeed,
stiffness at a touch;
the flinch, the recoil,
like from a pistol,
shots fired, and a
blank
silence hits the floor.
And so many words, so many words
rapid-fire
ejected
to change the topic
so that you won’t have to deal with the issue
that you no longer love me.

Seaworthy, But A Worth Not Seen

A ship arrived in the city
No one is aboard
A massive liner that could carry thousands
Not a soul to be seen
The finest luxuries afforded
No silverware even touched
A ship arrived in the city
No one knows why it was there

“Where did it come from?”
“When did it come?”
“How did it get here?”
“Who brought it here?”
“Why did it come here?”
“What will we do with it?”

Perhaps we could scuttle it, said one, use its wood as kindling
Perhaps we could make a playground out of it, said another
Perhaps as a homeless shelter?
No one thought to use it as a ship

And so the city folk took their axes
And hacked the ship apart
They pried plank from frame, steel from heart
The ship wept salty tears
For the ship crossed leagues and leagues of sea
To see a city it has heard of
Of shining ports and great big lights
Where ships could be ships

Subway Series Haiku: 4 – Perspective

Maternal display:
Rat leads its young on the tracks
— They are seen as filth.

Subway Series Haiku: 3 – Blessed

“Sorry to disturb”
“Need to feed my kids at home”
“God bless everyone”

Subway Series Haiku: 2 – Livelihood

Man at the turnstiles
Selling swipes for two dollars
— Twelve dollars an hour

Subway Series Haiku: 1 – Transit

Strangers on a train
Stealing glances through the trip
Then one has to leave