Wong Leung-wo is currently associate professor in the Department of Literature and Cultural Studies at The Education University of Hong Kong. Among his honors are three Hong Kong Youth Literary Awards, 1st prize in poetry from the 2nd Hong Kong Biennial Awards for Chinese Literature, and two 1st prizes in fiction from the Hong Kong Biennial Awards for Chinese Literature. He is also the recipient of five Hong Kong Library Awards for Creative Writing in Chinese, and the Big Thumb Poetry Prize. His books of poetry are Surprising Hair; The Pomelo Lamp; Millstone in the Fire; Ode to the Tree Root; Unborn; and About Time. He has published the fiction volumes The Curse of Fish; Breakthrough from Hell; and Cockroach Metamorphoses. His essay collections include Autumn Water; Between Mountain and Water; Fish Talk; and The Centauress and the Castle. His critical books are On Yu Guangzhong and Wong Kwok-pun and Opening the Window of Poetry: Dialogues of Hong Kong Poets.
Alone at the center of the shoal,
pale dot ringed by motion.
No stillness but itself,
transfixed in three dimensions.
Chill water, gritty sand, the wind insistent,
spinning a momentum
of circle within circle,
their orbits harmonious. Then
sudden wingbeats, and it climbs a pewter sky,
the center gone, all unity displaced
for anarchies of shove and grind, collide.
Just so, this human world before us—
fissured mountains, shattered stones, unsettled seas.
AT RILKE’S GRAVE
You roses, pure contradiction, your
big silent petals suddenly shut.
Wrapped as ever in your centripetal thoughts
I linger at the pistils’ taste, my wings shorn.
Death’s own buds, you beckon
to press close, face the gravemound
of decay, where sunrise won’t illuminate
that faint rose graven on the stone,
and you demand even more explanation.
What’s life’s poetry, poetry’s life?
A bell tolls on a distant mountain,
where the church of your avowals rings its own
as if one note, meeting yet apart
across the air. In my heart, I keep your nectar,
sometimes don a shroud.
Her soul’s a leaping shadow
tethered to a beast.
Love is the pillar, thick, invisible,
she yearns from horseflesh to embrace.
The lower half
hauls back, its male-strong joints set
with the weight of a sliding mountain,
its hooves jammed deep in mud,
though her longing springs from earth.
Human melds to horse by blood, by muscle,
the heart rent by two bodies.
Will her trembling hands
go slack, her lifted head
decline to a horseneck
bowing to the soil?
The world’s a gaudy, turning carousel,
a herd of horses crossing plains.
Their lowered mouths gnaw grass, gulp water,
but I see her still
preserving the luminous coal,
still struggling, wrestling
with the half that is this horse,
As if on a slope
before a grove of Mahal bamboo,
not knowing how to enter,
it’s hard to say
where poetry parts from painting.
Across the yellow, thirsty page of moonlight
night spills its endless ink,
a scroll of dark bamboo
by Wen Yuke. Late wind
whistles the banksides,
swaying the canes, their leaves
stirred to the soft murmur
of foraging birds, of fish
discussing a Wheel River poem,
its final rhyme.
Mahal bamboo: A species of thick growing, clumping bamboo particularly suited to stabilizing riverbanks.
Wen Yuke: Northern Song dynasty painter and poet (1018—1079), courtesy name Yuke, famous for his ink bamboo painting.
Wheel River: Shaanxi province mountain valley where Wang Wei composed with Pei Di the famous Wheel River cycle of poems, also known as the Wangchuan Ji.
——看梵谷的The Potato Eaters
THE POTATO EATERS
after van Gogh
From deep earth, a lamp rises
to the ceiling of the mud-colored house
claimed from darkness, a darkness valued twice
for these potatoes ripened in hardship,
humbly gathered, now at rest.
Beneath the fork, they glow,
expanding in the light, starving hunger, their mercy
lustering these weary, soil-knowing faces,
doubling the light upon clay bowls,
the teapot, hands that rake life’s stones.
Bitter tea brims the cup,
this too the labor of fingers bent toward earth
like branches, the flames in their eyes
dim, cold, hard as their toil.
They pass the cup.
How they dig, head down, the furrows;
how the roots reach through earth,
firm, waiting for release.
All these wait with patience,
too spent to suffer my gaze.
Easy for me to turn the page,
answer the doorbell,
leave. My own hoe delves
a weedy field of words,
digging deep, hands shining
in this earthen house,
its joy, its hope, its bitterness.
With compassion, with affection
a vase in our house displays
now and then one bloom
perched on its stem like a butterfly.
How fine if there are two,
easing this slim desolation.
Sometimes at midnight I switch the lamp
for a candle, its haloed light
releasing bashful orchid shades,
the breeze from the window
trembling the petals’ composure.
Next morning, the candle dead,
solemn dawn’s slipped past the curtains,
the dim room bright,
their tangled stems, their blooms
naked as newlyweds.
Crouched by the yard fence,
he guards winter’s afternoon,
sunlight on these fruit trees, fallen leaves.
Those shadows inching earth,
the soundless footfalls mounting eaves,
alert his sharpened ears,
erect, then drooping back to drowse.
From a distant sky, sparrows come,
crossing the fence for his rusty food bowl,
its cold, hard rice.
Still as wood, he lets the breeze
arrange his soft new coat.
The sparrows, stuffed,
shake their wings and fly,
their shadows on his nose
like a fleeting patch of cloud.
His eyes look up, his gaze
tethered by his neckchain.
Like this I stand on a sloping road at dusk,
as if something’s happened. People glance, suspicious,
wondering. They pass, looking where I look,
as I reap with my eye these vegetables
at one edge of the market, laid by rows
in the same angled sunlight
I receive. Each day I’ve savored their flesh,
now bright, fresh-souled bitter-melon,
tomatoes, Chinese cabbage, long beans
coiled in stacked wicker baskets,
as if in their last hours still growing,
still adding color.
Like this I stand in the warm breeze,
serenely peaceful on this earth,
a vegetable unharvested,
silent, offering, awaiting flame.
WINDMILL ON A DUTCH PORCELAIN MUSIC BOX
The soul of anything has music,
its voice poised
against silence, its notes
a revolving force.
In creation, God assumes an image
to alter or suddenly destroy,
raising from the ruins new paradigms.
This windmill seems a lofty church—
but whose? Its cross of blades
creaks round like the vault of stars
circling the blue axis of the universe.
Water runs with water’s melodies,
angelic trumpets, harps.
MIDNIGHT, LEANING AT A WINDOW
Midnight, leaning at a window
as night deepens, unfolding its ink-dark wings.
Not one star
yet from the harbor below the mountain
the lights of fishing boats burn steadily awake,
neither yawning nor tossing in bed.
Their orange lamps aloft
lure fish and dragons to their glow.
I too must drift from this peaceful shore,
hoping for anchorage, as will these boats,
leaving familiar wind and wave.
Tonight, a solitary clam, open to the universe
over the sleepless harbor,
I’m sleepless too, loath to wake
at sunrise in a dream, in a mist,
snuffing the fishing light, shoving off.