At the Chongqing Novel House & Other Poems

by Kate Rogers

At the Chongqing Novel House

In Chengdu, Dufu’s house nests in
a garden, in a steel and glass forest.
He wasn’t there. No one to drink with.
Night spilled its ink all over my words.

In Chongqing I find this house,
unbroken, by a large pit.
Plaster flakes mound in corners,
sticky rice, for my empty stomach.
Burnt chairs make good charcoal.
I diagram my escape on the walls,
sketch the pent up power of
my limbs. My characters fill
every space. I follow the bird
to see where it will roost.

I heard about the man in Hong Kong.
King of Kowloon, he drew his story
under bridges, on
the walls of banks.
We are not supposed to know about him
on this side of the border,
though his family came from Guangdong.
The police hunted him chapter by chapter,
came with paint to erase his words,
but he always found
more blank space – on a pillar
at the bus depot, in an alley
where stray cats wound their tails
round his ankles
as he flicked his brush over brick.

His words are hard to find now,
but I hear he wrote on umbrellas
before they became popular.

When I finish covering the walls here
I plan to go north to Shanxi,
where some still live in caves.
I want a burrow in a hillside,
a stone bed,
no windows to distract me
with light.

 

The Borrowed Children

After The Blood of the Children, by SG.L.Lim

Grief was asleep
until the children
camped out on the highway
that used to shrink the city,
stood and swayed
to songs of defiance
under a sea of umbrellas,
did homework on the pavement,
turned exhaustion into a party.

Grief was asleep
until they were gassed
by adults who used to
take their hands,
lead them home
when they were lost,
until clouds came
down from the mountains
and settled in the city.
Two girls who loved words in
the classroom,
tasted clouds on the road,
on the subway platform.
The city was fogged in,
office ladies and bankers
wept with the children,
made them box lunches.
Thirteen year olds,
wanted to speak
to their leaders
and be heard.
Eighteen year olds pushed
hard against barriers.

Grief could not sleep
when they were beaten with fists
which felt no pain,
men who think children must taste
the bitter iron of new blood.

Who could care too much
about borrowed children –
the ones who come to class to sleep,
the ones who earn A’s without turning up at all,
especially the ones
who lapse back into Cantonese
with such comfort in my classroom,
who, when I suggest they
choose English for an hour,
demand to know,

How can Beijing
be a metonymn
for us?

I will never joke with them again
about being the language police.

My grief was asleep during a decade
of writing references,
staying at work late
to meet application deadlines
students forgot
until the day before.

For all these years I’ve borrowed children
to fill my heart for the ones I lost.
My punishment is caring too much
this time they will not win,
to worry that I’ve taught them
to ask too many questions
for the country they inherit.

 

Tianjin Explosion

Exploding stars
scatter
calcium. The metal
in our bones, it feeds poor
topsoil, builds
earth’s
crust.
Calcium Carbide,
shapes dolls
from PVC, and the
balcony chairs
with a view of the chemical
warehouse ten minutes
walk away.
A butt tossed,
spark
among leaking barrels?
Sodium Cyanide
rushes to meet
gush
of water, with a blast
launches firemen into
the air,
orange
acrobats who never land.
Window frames
warp,
empty eye sockets.
Sodium cyanide
dissolves flesh from
fingers, halts
hearts.

The Tianjin river empties
its pockets,
silver
fish heap their
gleam
on the banks.
No one
stoops for
these coins.

The river’s mouth
foams
through the streets
of the city when clouds
weep.
Potassium cyanide
escapes too,
chromes
the sun,
buffs its
sheen
in a suspended sky.
Rain can’t rinse
that blanket clean,
blots out
mountain, stifles
bird song.

White glove shareholders
leave no
fingerprints
while the soft lips of toddlers
burn.

Metal,
fire, earth boil…

Water, where is wood?
At the Forest Farm,
growing fruit
no one will eat.

 

At the Chongqing Novel House & Other Poems

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