After Mid-Autumn & Other Poems

by Ting Wei Tai

After Mid-Autumn

Mid-Autumn,
And I do not dare to write about the moon
Like how he does not dare to show his pockmarked face.
Why does he shy away in the slow burn
Of sodium orange city-clouds that never sleep
Like how I never sleep? Does he not know
That he cannot be uglier than I am? If he looks at me once
I will be complete with the joy of a mirror image
That was waiting, and has now found its object.
You are not alone. You cannot be alone.
When we are together, alone.

If I could I would call the moon to us.
All I need is to part these lips. Say those words.
I touch my lips to the mirror and it is broken
Into ripples concentric on the surface of the tea
I never do things the way you want them
I am sorry I am not who you want me to be
The moth flutters its death wish to the lamp
The day after is the return to camp

We step out the gate; the moon is there.
It is too late; it is always too late here.
I will not write about the moon. I will
Write about how you leave too soon. How
You will leave me awake as all the others already
Have, with nothing but a handful of stars.

 

Butterflies in London

Far away, facing once more
The circling stained glass shards of home
In a humid hothouse, thick with artificial mist,
The white warm shroud of a nursery lies low
Next to this looming cathedral,
And I almost think that the butterflies,
Sweet, sickly, and sticky red as cherries,
Have blossomed out of their corpses.

Some, with brown rotten-leaf wings closed flat,
Perch on decaying fruit. Their long spiral tubes
Are reverse IV drips, liquorice-black,
Sucking, gnawing on chopped bananas and orange halves.
Who knew abstract jewelled kites held
Such insatiable hunger?
One leisurely spreads open his wings
Like a mouth yawning open to reveal
An alarming secret: a purple eye staring out
At you, as if it knew
That you too had a purple eye
Hidden between your unseen wings.

We walk past panels, helpful diagrams.
Taught by eager foreigners,
I am diligently studying
My own natural history,
To learn the names that should have grown
As natural as our own, but are missed, or forgotten,
The way all things of the self
Are missed or forgotten
There, where the days melt
Into one another just as the haze
And the rains and the dust
Melt and bleed into red mud.

What remains unnamed fades quickly out,
But that is not to say what is named
Stays long; it can be the yet undispersed throng
Lingering by inertia
After the end of the song. It can be
The grey liminal beauty
Of Chinese characters traced in water
By an old man in a park
With a bold brush as large as a broom
Briefly existing in the space
Between wet and lush blackness
And a silent vanishing that leaves
Only a signature of moistness
Floating in the air above the pavement.

The species we have here are all tropical or sub-tropical,
She tells me. All the adults are born elsewhere,
But the next generations will be London-made, see.
She flips a fern frond to reveal
A delicate cluster of lustrous pearls;
There may be no love, they will launch
Into being alone, but surely better it is to be —

Being alone,
A child reaches out to touch
A butterfly resting on a leaf.
Gently, her hand, slender, veined,
Stops his, milky and plump.
The wings do not grow back.
Leaving the chrysalis, they are at their most pristine,
But will only get more worn and tattered, until they die.

At a wooden shed, rows of gathered chrysalises
Stand awaiting opening. Two staff members
Hover behind, tweezers in hand. We try
Not to help. Inevitable that some will die
Coming out. The ones who thrive best
Are those who come through on their own. Nevertheless,
The great judge pauses, we do
Give them a little nudge,
Here and there, if there is hope.

If there is hope,
Would it have been better to die then,
As a green comma of potential, unrealised flight?
A compact pod full of the promise of life,
Infinitely more precious
Than the dreary thing itself, possessed
With all the fragile beauty of an untested idea.

One successfully emerges.
Its wings are wet and fresh and folded
Like a Japanese paper napkin.
He almost looks tired, panting, slowly unfurling.
Another, with white wings,
Has just begun struggling out of his shell.
He must leave, and quick,
Before sanctuaries become coffins.

I face the struggling insect. It is kin.
There is no question of offspring,
Just the prospect of old blood pumped
Into new wings, stretched out tight.
Only one beginning, only a few weeks,
And leaning ahead, against the wind,
The expanse, the cold clarity of night.

 

First Breakfast in America

My first breakfast in America.
It was very unexpected. Does it
Have the same flavour? Be careful,
Some of those restaurants can be
Pure disappointment.
My first meal I had in Chinatown with my mom
Was incredibly sad.
Not as good, but still shiok
It was actually decent, and came
With proper Cantonese service
(almost no service) —
Good! I hate it
When my waiters care about me.
It looks like the real deal.

 

Brush

Three times, in three different parks in China,
One by the lake, one by the river,
One in the throbbing core of the city,
I have come across three septuagenarians
Practising their strokes with gigantesque brushes,
Uncurling characters on the concrete.
A slow but graceful dance, they hold
Brushes like lovers, deftly side-stepping pedestrians,
Waltzing and turning, while bending her skirts
In impossible angles, witnessed by water.

I think they may all be the same person. If so,
Why does he follow me around? How does he,
This old man, find me, one in a billion?
Or am I the one following you
All this time, my itineraries, my trajectories,
Invisibly bent towards yours, that we may cross,
And cross, and cross again, like a cat’s cradle
Or the way the flight of birds
Are trued by magnetic matrices
Generated by the spin
Of something momentous underground?
I cannot remember much, but this:
He could very well be a brush,
His head a mop of white, like the tip.

Once, I dreamt I was in a park
And found you once more. Finally mustering
Courage to speak, I called – but could not muster
Sound. Yet he heard, and he turned,
And he opened his mouth, and instead of words,
Black ink welled out in a slow, steady dribble,
Trickling down his beard and neck,
Dyeing his white robes black,
Seeping into thirsty grass.
I thought I had woken up,
And looking down at my hands,
Found that they diverged at the end,
Splitting not into fingers
But fine, meat-coloured hairs
Waiting to be dipped into. I shivered,
Feeling the world at my tips
And bristling at its papery touch.

 

 

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