More poems and contributor notes in Chinese feature
Yong Shu Hoong
Heroics of Loneliness
Really, what can one expect in a Chinese restaurant?
In a city considered (by one of my friends)
to be the least Asian of all American cities.
But there I was, asking the waitress
about cab fares and directions
when he overheard me from the next table.
He invited himself over and started asking questions.
Cautiously, trying not to sound intrusive,
he offered to take me
to see the remaining sights of his city
before my train at midnight. If I wanted.
For a moment, I could only think of:
RAPE and DISMEMBERMENT.
After all, he did look like a version of Dennis Hopper.
Beneath the meekness, a subliminal trace of menace.
Eventually I said okay, against my judgment.
And the next thing I knew, we were riding the rail
to his home three stations away.
Jury duty today, he told me,
Didn't bother to drive.
He pointed out his car parked
alongside the road, as we approached
the house that his parents had left him.
In the sitting room, there was a decorated tree
which he had never bothered to take down
from past Christmases.
As we sat trading pieces of autobiography,
he told me he never married.
Tried adopting a kid from Korea
but later found out that she was retarded.
So now America wouldn't take her.
He talked about the last time he met her.
How she could almost utter, Dad.
When it was time to go for our ride,
he decided to let the engine stir for a while
before we headed for the night.
Driving around like old acquaintances,
we gazed at old houses along Mexican War Streets,
passing the pubs in Shadyside
and then, the Civic Arena.
We even stopped for drinks at the Rosebud,
a place swamped by loud alternative rock
which I think I appreciated more than him.
And after the alcohol, I had no more excuses
for not acknowledging him as friend.
When the time came for parting,
we shook each other's hand long and hard.
Not without a tinge of something.
And in what more appropriate setting
than the train station.
Of course we promised to keep in touch. Et cetera.
I never forgot his kindness.
It was only later that I realized
we never quite broached the subject of loneliness.
Seeing Snow for the First Time
It is strange
how snow makes food
out of everything!
Scattered across desert plains,
it anoints little sand stones
and monumental rocks.
But all I'm envisioning
are frosted pastries
and coffee cakes cloaked
in generous icing.
I am either poetic or hungry.
And snow in the sky
is another thing:
carrying the wind.
crashes upon my nose,
and in heaven
an angel must be missing
Before the Rain
We gather as a family at Mount Vernon
where Grandmother's ashes rest in an urn
behind a coal-black marble plate, pigeon-holed
within this miniature flat for the dead.
Aided by Ching Ming rituals, we dare
to make small conversation in our attempts
to dilute past feuds, learning once again
to be amiable towards one another,
especially those we don't ever see
on New Year's anymore.
And we offer: plump chicken, greens,
a small bowl of steamed rice,
Jasmine tea in a porcelain cup
laying out fruits of differing seeds,
feeding the fire with paper money,
praying for divine protection
with the animated bowing of joss sticks
before the soft rain falls,
remembering Grandmother's love
as we sharpen our own propensity
to love hereafter.
from Isaac (Firstfruits Publications, 1997)