The Literary Shanghai Journal

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Welcome to Literary Shanghai!

  Literary Shanghai is a community of readers, writers, and translators, Chinese and English, with a local and regional focus. Our goal is to bring our literary community together through events, workshops, and our literary journal. Read more.  

October Events

Sunday October 22, 10am WALK: Qiuxiapu ~ Shanghai's Literary Garden with Shelly Bryant 

Saturday October 28, 2pmWORKSHOP: Parents, Place, Prose, Poem with Tim Tomlinson, founder of the New York Writers Workshop

Saturday October 28, 4pm BOOK LAUNCH: This Is Not Happening to Me by Tim Tomlinson, moderated by David Perry

Poetry

Tim Tomlinson – poems from “Requiem for the Tree Fort I Set on Fire”

Tim Tomlinson was born in Brooklyn, and raised on Long Island, where he was educated by jukeboxes and juvenile delinquents. He quit high school in 1971 and began a life of purposeless wandering that led to purpose. He’s lived in Boston, Miami, New Orleans, London, Florence, Shanghai, Manila, Andros Island in the Bahamas, and Cha-am, Thailand. Currently, he lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Deedle. He is a co-founder of New York Writers Workshop, and co-author of its popular text, The Portable MFA in Creative Writing. He is the author of the chapbook Yolanda: An Oral History in Verse, the poetry collection Requiem for the Tree Fort I Set on Fire, and the forthcoming collection of short fiction, This Is Not Happening to You (due late summer, 2017). He is a Professor of Writing at New York University’s Global Liberal Studies Program. He’s an avid scuba diver with just under 300 logged dives, and a 200-hr Yoga Alliance certified yoga instructor.

 

At Night, after the Screams

 

wake us

 

we hear him walk

to the kitchen,

 

hear

 

his callused feet scuff

the hardwood floor, hear

 

him mutter curses

at the carpet,

its edge

 

perpetually curled, hear him

go

 

silent

 

on the linoleum

of the kitchen

floor.

 

So much is hidden

 

by our mother,

 

in closets

behind cans and boxes.

 

So much

 

that he loves—

 

Mallomars, Mr. Chips,

Hostess Twinkies.

 

We hear him

rummaging,

 

rummaging,

 

the cans clinking,

the boxes tearing open,

and his hands,

 

his thick

callused hands

ripping

 

through wax paper

and plastic packaging.

 

Hear

the refrigerator suck

open

 

sense

its light through the cracks

of our bedroom doors.

 

When he stands

in that cold light,

when he upends the milk carton,

when he douses

the fire

 

in his throat,

does he wonder, as we

do,

 

what made him scream,

again,

this time,

 

his mother’s name?

 

 

~

Blood Bank

(after Dorianne Laux)

 

When I was sixteen years old and did not

need sleep to feel rested, or a job for

money, I joined the veterans outside

the Camp Street Blood Bank at 7 a.m.

where they smoked cigarettes peeled off

the cobblestones and drank MD 20-20

from pint bottles. They wiped their mouths on

the greasy sleeves of fringed jackets or jungle

cammies, looking for a piece of cardboard

or some old magazine to slap on the spit

and piss and vomit laminating

the sidewalks they slept on. I did not feel

soiled by the filth on their fingernails,

the grease in their hair, or the gravel in their

throats. I was enthralled by the lies they told

about where they’d been, what they’d seen, how

many they’d killed, and the way they told those

lies, as if they believed them. As if I

believed them, too.

Inside the clinic

we reclined on hard gurneys, flies lining

the rims of Dixie cups filled with urine.

“Shame, Shame, Shame” on the radio,

unlicensed nurses in tight white uniforms

dancing the Bump between rows of our

worn-out soles. They pushed thick cold cannulas

in our arms and our bloods drained into

plastic tubing. Arterial blood, slow

and thin. Blood over the legal limit, blood

so dirty it had fleas. Blood of our fathers

who’d disowned us, blood of our mothers

whose faces we’d failed to erase. At night,

I’d be back on Bourbon Street, a pint low,

a dollar flush, Buster’s beans and rice glued

to my ribs. Blue notes from clarinets

and guitars joining the termites spinning

in the halos of street lamps, go-cups crowning

the trash cans and dribbling into the gutter

with the butts and the oysters and the sweat

off the shower-capped jheri-curled tap

dancer from Desire Project scraping spoons

across the slats of a metal scratchboard.

Hawkers barking at the swarms of tourists

gawking at strippers in storefront displays,

and the runaway girls at the topless

shoeshine spit-shining white loafers

on the feet of insurance agents from

Mutual of Omaha. The veterans,

my blood brothers, they’d lurk in the shadows

and scan the sidewalks for half-smoked butts,

and I’d help them put together the lies

they’d tell to strangers tonight, and repeat

to me in the morning, forgetting half

of those lies were mine, and I’d forget, too.

 

 

~

Morgan’s Bluff

 

At dawn the gulls laugh again.

 

Two gray angelfish ascend …

… kiss the surface …

… recede …

the water’s surface wrinkles.

 

Pink light separates the gray sky from the gray sea.

Enormous clouds form like the aftermath of great explosions.

 

How pensive this daybreak,

a grenade without a pin.

 

In a needling insect heat the dawn’s final breeze fades

 

A jeep’s lights flash on, it backs out of the commissary.

 

Pelicans lift from the pylons.

The Cuban whore retreats up the Bluff Road,

her sandals dangling from a finger.

 

~

 

Night Dive

 

Once on a moonless night

I lost my companions.

Their beams were bright

but I’d edged over

 

an outcropping into

darkness and touched down softly

on a rubble ledge

where the wall pulsed

 

with half-hidden forms, eyes

on the ends of stalks,

spiny feelers testing the current,

feather dusters

 

vanishing

in a blink,

spaghetti worms retracting.

So sadly familiar—

 

things I desire withdrawing,

their forms

disappearing

the instant

 

I extend a hand.

The reef folding into itself

like a fist. Then,

from the stacks of plate coral,

 

the arm of an octopus slid,

and another, two more,

reaching

for my fingertips,

 

my palm. The soft sack

of the octopus followed,

inching nearer,

her tentacles

 

assessing

the flesh of my wrist,

my arm. My heart

pounding. Turquoise pink

 

explosions rushing across

the octopus’s form. At my armpit,

she tucked in,

sliding her arms

 

around my neck

and shoulder, her skin

becoming

the blue and yellow

 

of my dive skin.

She stayed with me

such a short time,

her eyes,

 

those narrow slits,

heavy with trust,

and my breath

so calm, so easy.

 

Above,

my companions

banged on their tanks,

summoning me to ascend.

 

 

 

 

 

Continue reading
Related posts
Tim Tomlinson – poems from “Yolanda: An Oral History in Verse”
October 13, 2017
Poetry

Tim Tomlinson – poems from “Yolanda: An Oral History in Verse”

Tim Tomlinson was born in Brooklyn, and raised on Long Island, where he was educated by jukeboxes and juvenile delinquents. He quit high school in 1971 and began a life of purposeless wandering that led to purpose. He’s lived in Boston, Miami, New Orleans, London, Florence, Shanghai, Manila, Andros Island in the Bahamas, and Cha-am, Thailand. Currently, he lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Deedle. He is a co-founder of New York Writers Workshop, and co-author of its popular text, The Portable MFA in Creative Writing. He is the author of the chapbook Yolanda: An Oral History in Verse, the poetry collection Requiem for the Tree Fort I Set on Fire, and the forthcoming collection of short fiction, This Is Not Happening to You (due late summer, 2017). He is a Professor of Writing at New York University’s Global Liberal Studies Program. He’s an avid scuba diver with just under 300 logged dives, and a 200-hr Yoga Alliance certified yoga instructor.

 

The Storm (Father Hector, San Jose Nov 8 2013)

 

When the water came

I was alone hiding, taking cover,

anticipating that the roofing might not hold,

worried of dying.

 

The water came

the strong winds howling, shaking the whole place,

white mist like needles piercing through my skin.

I’m going to die in this place.

 

Later our neighbors came

scampering climbing shouting panicking.

This is okay, this is good—

there’s somebody to tell my relatives

 

I died this way.

 

~

 

The Giant Claw (Beatrice Zabala, 16, Palo, Nov 8, 2013)

 

Before the giant claw came, I was inside

the comfort room with my grandmother.

She was praying the whole time. My parents

called us to transfer to a safer room,

but the winds kicked up, slamming on our door.

The wind was like a drunken man punching

the door, kicking it, trying to rip it apart.

The strong winds against my father’s strength.

 

Then suddenly, I felt water on the floor.

I thought fresh water from the river, it

didn’t smell salty. It started to rise,

to our knees, our waist, our chin. Salt water.

How was it possible? The sea was almost

a kilometer away! Then, the giant claw came.

 

~

 

The Surge (Zenia Dulce, 46, Professor UP Visayas. Tacloban, Nov 8, 2013)

 

I called to her,

I called to her and then

we held each other’s hand

 

and then suddenly the water under her

inside the house it was eating up the whole house

and she said oh my god

 

and then suddenly

one wave washed her down then another wave

another wave brought her up

 

so I held her

another wave put us both down together

with the whole house

 

so all the house and us we were under

and we did not know what was happening to us

but we held on together

 

we are both safe she knows because I am holding on to her

I give her a signal to hold on tightly

and then we were engulfed by the water

 

and then we tried to go up

once we neared the surface I released her

so that we would be able to have the chance to crawl up and swim

 

well the water was actually pushing us up together

I was telling her to it’s OK you release

so she released her hold on me also

 

and we resurfaced but the problem

we were both trapped big debris uh, maybe big debris

like this four or six like this

 

I don’t know it’s big I was scratched

this is still the bruise uh what do you call this my remembrance

and that was how many months ago that was six months eight months ago

 

and that bruise is still there

I was struck here also at my back

and she was struck at the neck I heard the snap

 

like that super loud

and then there was no emotion on her face

I saw the blood blood blood coming out from her nose and mouth

 

I thought oh my god she’s dead

and then slowly slowly

she was sinking

 

Continue reading
Related posts
Tim Tomlinson – poems from “Requiem for the Tree Fort I Set on Fire”
October 16, 2017
Fiction

Greg Baines – excerpts from “Guerilla War: A Love Story” (Part 3)

Zhen – Delays

“All warfare is based on deception.” (Sun Tzu, Chpt 1, 18)

 

I have been in this bar so many times, it’s like reading the same book again and again. The pages are grubby and hold no surprises. I’m here alone tonight, hoping beer will wash my irritation with Sun.

My head feels like it’s being split with each bass thud, makes it hard to think. DJ’s all sound the same don’t they? Just different posters. Stupid names; DJ Missile, DJ Jam.

Each drink purchase is studied, timed. I switch to cognac from the cheap beer. I work out each glass of cognac costs me four point one hours of my meagre wages. This is not to be taken lightly. But I don’t care anymore. It relaxes me, softens the sound of jackhammers in my head. The bartender pours a small stain of four hours labour into my glass, I wince. Here’s to my family-friendly fiance who has been so busy at work I’ve been stuck at my parents for two long extra days. He thinks his meetings with his boss are more important than moving me into our flat.

I swig another small mouthful of cognac and message my friend Mei to see how she is. But there is no reply.

Some cheap looking girl moves in front of me and eyes a foreigner. She must think I’m competition, but I don’t have the required layers of makeup. I wear jeans, not a short skirt. And I don’t like foreign men, not like that. The foreigner smiles at her, doesn’t see me. His eyes move down her legs to her high heels. We are playthings to them. He is like a child.

The cheap girl, in heels that are more like school made stilts, stumbles onto my toes causing a sharp stab of pain. Worse, I see in a quick machine gun fire of strobe that she’s stained the toes of my favourite shoes. I try to push her away but end up stumbling myself. Too much cognac and out manoeuvred, I fall off my stool and onto my feet, but kick out at her as I do. Mud that always seems to be caked to the bottom of my shoes stains her clothes, makes me smile. My handbag strikes the foreigner in the side. He doesn’t notice though, he is too busy trying to scoop up the heeled painted doll falling at his feet. He looks like a baby happy with a cheap breakable toy. You get what you pay for, right?

I feel more lost than when I arrived. Drink has clouded me. I feel like I’m sinking inside. More music, too loud. I have to get out so I head toward the flood of light spilling from the exit. There are lots of people between me and the coat rack. I’m going through my pockets looking for the tag. Hair is in my eyes, sticky with sweat. People behind wait for me, watching.

A foreigner stumbles ahead of the queue, with a small group around him. I can’t see his face clearly. He has sandy coloured hair that was once styled in some sort of business cut, but it’s now slightly overgrown. I see a flash of dark eyes. His clothes look cheap, but I notice an expensive pair of shoes, one of the brands Mei goes on about. He looks bored, numb. He’s too drunk or too clueless to see a system and pushes ahead of me.

I must have drunk too much, I am never so direct with strangers, “Wait, line up. They are getting my coat.” I feel blood rush to my cheeks as I say this, want to rewind that last moment and keep my mouth shut.

He mutters, “Doesn’t even seem to be a line, don’t know how you can tell.”

I push hair out of my face, fold my arms, “Foreigners often miss the obvious.”

He rocks back on his heels now, steadies himself on the counter. I see him examine my face. The group with him has drifted off toward the door. He doesn’t seem to care, says to me, “I’ve fucked up. I…” He looks down at his shoes, takes one hand out to steady himself against the wall near him. He splutters, “I didn’t mean it quite like that…” The words run together like ink. I wince at the toxic smell of what he has drunk, I can smell it from where I am.

I pull back a little, “I don’t talk with drunks.” I regret starting this, look over his shoulder hoping someone will come back with my coat. I fold my arms and stand there, hoping I can escape quickly. My bravery is evaporating.

He grunts, points his finger at me, trying to end the tense silence between us, “You know… I’ve seen no system in this city so far… crazy drivers, brave cyclists…”

He stops pointing when he realises I won’t respond. People are looking, I just want to go home now. He turns away from me, sighs, runs his hands through his hair, says, “Sorry.” I glance at him, he looks lost. I feel a flicker of pity for him.

I mutter, “You’ll feel better tomorrow.” He doesn’t reply.

Someone comes with my coat and I take it off her, anxious to flee. In my haste I stumble, and he lurches to help me, grabs my arm. I jump away and move toward the door. I feel the air from the outside smother the sound from the club behind me. It shrinks it to monotone.

He follows me outside. I stumble to the head of a taxi queue and try to muscle my way into a taxi to get away from him. I hear him from behind me, “There’s a system, a line…” His interruption has prevented me from being pushed by three women I have offended as I take their place in the taxi queue. He looks happy seeing this revenge and leads me away before they vent their rage at me.

He says, “I’d buy you a drink, to say sorry, but I don’t have any money left.”

He must be lying, “How can a foreigner not have money?” I grunt.

He smiles, looks at my shoes, “Well, not all of us have money to burn.”

I should walk away, but I don’t, I stand on the edge of the street not in a line for a taxi and not walking away. I can’t explain why I don’t want to move or why half of me stops the other half from moving, a stalemate. I say, “Well, you must have something, you couldn’t have swum here from your country.”

I hope he will walk away, but he chuckles. I see a flash of those eyes and I look down at the pavement, and he says, “My company paid for the ticket and set me up, so… no great swimming skills.” He tries to say something else but the wind picks up and we both recoil as the cold hits us.

We shuffle back away from the road toward the door where there is some shelter. I notice, with enough light now from the light in the doorway, that he is unshaven. “You don’t need to buy me a drink, I’m used to foreigners.”

He raises his eyebrows, “Used to arrogance?”

I nod, “Yes.” My cheeks flush and I turn away from him, my arms folded and pressed against my breasts to hold the warmth in.

He says, “Funny, I was just thinking you were arrogant.” I grit my teeth, want to yell at him but I am incapable of even grasping at an English word to respond.

He finds a business card and holds it in one hand in front of me, “Well, I should give this to you. They say that’s the right thing to do here.” I feel my eyebrows arch. Such thick skin; ‘the nerve’, as they say in foreign movies. It says, ‘Golden Dragon Property’ above his name, Lindon. He works for them.

I snatch it quickly, my upbringing forbids me from leaving it in his hands. I pull too hard and he topples forward, almost falls to the street. I leave, turn my back on him, heading for the subway as rain starts to fall. I only get a few metres form him and he yells, “What’s your name?”

I wonder why he cares. I stop and turn around. Rain starts to prick my face with icy water and I breath hard, “Zhen Yi.” The rain gets heavier and I rush away.

I look back as the subway entrance looms up in front of me and see he is following me. I notice, in the rain that’s fanning out on the road, the mud from his shoes is leaving a trail behind him. He looks like a child, a large clumsy child. I being to laugh, a real laugh. I’m more used to giving ‘show faces’ and deceitful body language. That is my life. Smile to the right people, strategic-emotional-display. But this laugh is real. I put his card into a pocket, careful to remember where I put it, and disappear into the subway.

Later on the platform I see him squinting in the glare of fluorescent light. We don’t talk. He has retreated into himself anyway, is far away. I turn to go to my side of the platform and I am happy a train glides in right away. I don’t look at him again, I just turn and disappear into the carriage.

My phone begins screeching. It’s Sun, I see his name on the screen and I’m relieved to hear from him. I want to hear his voice after everything that’s gone on tonight. The night has flushed out the frustration. Was I bitch to him? Should I be a more supportive fiancé? There are ads for bras opposite me, Sun sounds perfect, as usual. His voice deep and calm. He apologises for being out so late again. He has signed a big new contract. Says this one will “change everything” but I’ve heard this before.

I say, “I’m not feeling well baby. I need to be in our own place. My parents are driving me crazy…” I listen to his voice, my toe aches from the club. The foreigner’s smile is everywhere I look in the subway. It’s the only thing I can see and I feel terrible for this small emotional betrayal of Sun. I don’t even know why I would think about that stupid arrogant man.

The train gathers speed as we head away from the station, Sun is saying, “…and you should make sure you keep warm, it’s starting to rain they say, and I hope you were careful with-” but as the train disappears into a tunnel we lose our signal. His voice disappears mid-sentence and my shoulders go slack. I sink back against the door. I look forward to being surrounded by him, smelling his skin. But I won’t see him again tonight, and I will be with my parents.

When I get off at my stop, rain has started to descend in heavy sheets. At home I clear my pockets. All the paper has formed a soft mess of running ink and pulp. There is no number left. I’m relieved about this, almost happy.

Why would I want some arrogant foreign man’s phone number anyway?


 

Lindon – Foam realities

Knowledge of the enemy’s dispositions can only be obtained from other men.”
(Sun Zi, Chpt. 13, 6)

 

I have been hired much like a mascot on a sports team to smile and drink and show my face at ceremonies, not to actually work. I have the foam model in my head, but there is no “nail house” on the model so I have escaped today, slipped out of a press conference between camera flashes and toasting glasses and managed to get a taxi; we are speeding out across endless overpass toward the site, Chinese news blaring over the car’s speakers. I must get a look at this nail house for myself, size it up and give them their marching orders.

I sit in the back, sandwiched with the young guy they have given me to translate, his eyes permanently attached to his mobile phone. I don’t know his name and he doesn’t seem to care too much to know mine. I notice another taxi travels behind us the whole way and stops a block ahead of us as we arrive and I wonder, in a made-for-TV moment, if I am being followed. I watch an old guy get out of the taxi clutching a shopping bag wander off ahead to a small row of shops in the distance but he doesn’t look back.

I leave paranoid thoughts behind and stride across the road through the torn muddy shreds of earth left in machines wakes. Blue construction steel fence has enveloped the site. I duck under a loosely chained driveway in the centre on the front side of the fence next to the company logo and I smile to myself as the translator trips on a rise of mud as he texts and walks- serves him right.

Once inside I stop, trying to take in what I see, startled. There are two deep round pits that all this construction rises out of; behind this, in the distance is a block of apartments that have, on the plans at least, already been removed but they are still partially standing. I see only two cranes installed to service the ten stories of the building that has currently been started in the pit to the left of me; there should be more machinery, more activity. Workers accommodation, at least, has been built at the far end of the site, opposite me- small white sheds are piled on top of each other, some sort of makeshift kitchen next to it billows smoke. Some of the bottom sheds have been made with what I assume are the bricks of the houses already demolished.

As I look around men stop around me – one guy stands in front of me to my left and a couple thrust pages at me that are tattered and torn. I ignore them for the moment taking in the nail house in front of me. I’d pictured a house or two standing amongst machinery but this is so much more than that- there is an island of land left in the middle of the second pit, and a narrow land bridge has been left to connect it to where I stand.

Sitting on top of that is a house, a regular terrace house that’s had other buildings obviously demolished around it, but this one has been spared, left intact and it’s perched up on top of the island like a rotten tooth. An old man shuffles around on the roof, piling up stones and rocks. He has red flags flying from makeshift beams of wood from the corners of the roof and he stops when he sees me and stares in our direction, peers at us like we are somehow the odd ones in this scene. The translator shuffles up beside me breathing heavily from the short walk and doesn’t seem to be at all taken aback, like what is in front of us is an ‘everyday’ occurrence.

Voices now attract my attention. I count over a dozen people wandering toward me. One guy has an ill-fitting security uniform on and a jar of tea in his hand and they all talk at once at me. The guard points back at the gate and I shrug and yell, “I don’t understand…” I wave my company ID at them, hope this scares them off, intimidates in some way. A dog starts barking from within the house in the pit. The translator looks at me for direction but I shrug and move closer to the earth bridge that connects the nail house to the edge. The small crowd that has gathered follows me.

As I stop on the land bridge itself to take a couple of images with my phone, the translator pulls on my sleeve, “We should go back, let others deal with this.”

The people who have followed us start to back up, won’t set foot on the bridge. I pull away from the translator, say, “I just need to let them know a couple of thingd, I’ll be all right.”

He laughs “Mr, the on-site office is over that way…” He points back behind us and I notice the small crowd are looking at each other- some smile and I wonder what these smiles mean.

“I won’t take long.” I start to walk across the land bridge. No one, including the translator, are moving with me; they stand watching like they are looking at an accident, but this suits me, it makes things less complicated. I notice a camera crew have run up behind the crowd but they keep their distance as well.

As I turn my head from them I look up to find the old man but he seems to have disappeared from site. It’s then the first projectile hits me. I am lucky that the first one is just a ball of mud that strikes my leg so it doesn’t hurt too much, but I still stagger a bit with the force and surprise of it. I’m off balance and I lurch toward the side of the land bridge, hands instinctively now over my head waiting for the next blow and I overbalance at the edge. I hear a collective sigh behind me and look down – the drop looks to be about twenty metres and I feel my fingers and toes tingle as I pull my weight back the other way to avoid dropping into the pit. I stumble as I do this and end up on my hands and knees.

Mud covers my legs and looks like it will stain my only suit and I curse under my breath but another projectile hits my head. It’s softer and larger. My legs crumple. Soft mud cascades down my face and brings me safely down to the ground where I curse again. I hear laughter from behind and I turn to hurl abuse at them but as I open my mouth the third projectile hits my back and pain shoots up into my neck.

Another harder object hits the ground in front of me as I try to get up, my eyes foggy with mud. It’s then I hear a loud woman’s voice from in front of me yell “Stop!”

I wipe mud off my face and it drips off the ends of my fingers. I peer through the grime looking for the source of the voice. I can’t see her face under a woollen hat and a hooded jacket.

I can only really see her eyes – they shine somehow out of the cold. She walks from the nail house and the old man trails twenty metres or so behind her, some sort of projectile still in his hand ready for battle.

Anger overwhelms me driven by the pain in my back, “What the fuck was that for?”

She comes closer now, pushes back the hood and she is instantly familiar- the girl from the nightclub. She says, “My father is causing all of us lots of trouble. I’m sorry.”

It takes her a fraction longer to recognize me, but then it’s there in the way her face tightens as I speak, “Your father is mad.”

She frowns, “My father is under a lot of pressure.”

Pain radiates across my back again in a new wave and I wince. “I just came out to chat with him, not get attacked.”

“My father was the one that attacked you, talk to him.” She turns to leave.

“I assume that animal behind you is your father?”

Zhen stops, spins around, “Don’t call my father names, drunk.”

“Drunk?” Mud is trickling into the corners of my mouth, it’s gritty in my teeth. I sneer, happy this has offended her, “You’re just lucky I don’t get the police out here.”

Zhen whistles and I hear the dog bark again. It appears from a hole in the wall at the front of her home and races toward me. I grin despite the pain, pretend the dog doesn’t frighten the piss out of me, “Calling out your attack dogs?” I leer.

Zhen stands opposite me, impassive and the dog, much to my relief, stops beside her. I look back, smiling. The film crew have advanced onto the land bridge and are still filming. I notice a brand on the side of the camera that seems to suggest some sort of local news station so I consider my next words carefully now. I clear my throat, straighten my muddy tie, push muddy hair out of my face and say, “Well I won’t bill you for the dry cleaning I’ll need.”

I hold out my hand to pressure her into a handshake, but the dog darts forward and sinks its teeth into my calf. There is excited chatter from the crowd behind and no one stops to help. I curse, trying to flick the dog away with my hand but only the translator makes an effort and the dog lets go of me to lash out at him. I launch a kick at the dog but my other foot slips in the mud and I end up landing on my backside. The jolt aggravates the pain in my back but scares the dog and I hear clapping from the now excited audience behind.

I keep my voice calm for the cameras, try my best to smile. When I look up at Zhen I notice she is holding her hand over her obviously grinning mouth and I say through gritted teeth, “Just remind your father he only has another forty eight hours to leave. We are behind schedule already and this building won’t stop for him or anyone else.”

Zhen turns and marches away, obviously filled with contempt and hate for me, yet I have sent her a clear strong message; at least I have that satisfaction. I get up slowly, fighting pain and mud. The foam model could not be more false, more unlike this muddy shitty fucking hole.

I get to the road, the crowd stares and smiles at me with my muddy suit and hair and I see a man with a shopping bag watching me from across the street. He smiles at me. He looks like an ordinary person, but he has perfectly straight white shining teeth and he nods his head at me when we make eye contact.

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September 15, 2017
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September 11, 2017
Poetry, Translation

Scott L. Satterfield – translation of a poem by Wang Anshi

松间

 

偶向松间觅旧题

野人休诵北山移

丈夫出处非无意

猿鹤从来自不知

 

  • 王安石

 

Among the Pines (On Being Recalled to Office)

 

Among the pines chancing upon old inscriptions,

Ignoramuses stop crowing my remove to northern mountains.

The man now comes forth not without purpose –

such as apes, cranes, never could understand.

 

  • Wang Anshi  (1021-1086)
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Yong Shu Hoong – two poems (translated by Chow Teck Seng)
August 18, 2017
Poetry, Translation, Uncategorized

Chua Chee Lay – 同一片天 (translated by Shelly Bryant)

With deep interests across literature, visual arts, culture, education and digital technology, Chua Chee Lay’s literary writings reflect his diverse influences and span across modern poetry, prose, song lyrics and short stories. Chua holds a PhD in East Asian Language and Literature from the University of Wisconsin. A linguist, educator, award-winning poet and children’s book writer, he is also the Chief Editor for several books and series, including Keeping My Mandarin Alive: Lee Kuan Yew’s Language Learning Experiences (Chinese, English and China Edition) and Journey of Our Young, a Young Writers Project by the Ministry of Education.

 

同一片天

——为2013年国家图书馆全国阅读运动“读吧!新加坡”而作
蔡志礼
混沌天地
缓缓地张开
沉睡千年的眼
浩浩沧海
渐渐凝成万顷桑田
似曾相识的飞燕
来自天上来自人间
来自同一片天
青涩少年
改朝换代后
早已风霜满面
抬望眼啊
皆是不轻弹的英雄泪
洗也洗不尽的怨
所有悲悯所有爱怜
来自同一片天
不同肤色
不同的语言
不一样的祖先
命运嬗变
上天要我们紧紧相连
赤足走在赤道边
一样阳光一样雨露
来自同一片天
不能再叫
梦沉淀搁浅
不能再叫
悲情继续蔓延
撒下心愿
全情灌溉用爱耕心田
仰望渺渺云河边
明月微笑星光点点
来自同一片天
摊开浩荡的历史长卷
翻阅盘古开天的容颜
任豪情无限壮志伸延
让心与心手和手相嵌
我们拥有同样一片天
祸福与共
直到永永远远

The Same Stretch of Sky

written for the 2013 National Library Board “Read! Singapore” campaign
a world of chaos
slowly opening
eyes that have slept for a millennium
vast sea
gradually condensing millions of miles of mulberry fields
deja vu
coming from earth to heaven
from the same stretch of sky
sentimental youth
after the regime change
faces already covered with frost
lift your eyes
aren’t these the flickering tears of a hero
and the resentment that can never be purged
all the compassion
all the sympathy
all the affection
from this same stretch of sky
different skin color
different language
different ancestors
Fate’s evolution
– heaven wants us tightly intertwined
barefoot on the equator
the same sun
the same rain
from this same stretch of sky
never again to allow
dreams to founder, stranded
never again to allow
sorrow to continue to spread
scattering the dream
love fills the irrigation channels
cultivating the heart
watching the river of clouds above
the moon smiles in the stars’ twinkling
coming from the same stretch of sky
spread the scrolls of the chronicles
read of Pangu opening up the heavens
with all our lofty ideals
let heart and heart
hand and hand be joined
we all have this same stretch of the sky
our shared good fortune
now and forever
(Reprinted with thanks to The Arts House, Singapore)
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Poetry, Translation

Chow Teck Seng – 出入停车场 (translated into English by Yong Shu Hoong)

Singapore-born Chow Teck Seng writes poetry primarily in Chinese. Frequently contributing to literary journals, anthologies and the Chinese press in Singapore and abroad, he has won awards such as the Singapore Literature Prize (2014) and Golden Point Award (2009). His poems in English translation are found in & Words: Poems Singapore and Beyond (2010), Union: 15 Years of Drunken Boat, 50 Years of Writing from Singapore (2015), SG Poems 2015–2016 and the online journal, Poetry at Sangum. They have also been adapted as short films by students of Lasalle College of the Arts in 2017. A former lecturer (in Chinese-language literature) at the National University of Singapore and National Institute of Education, he is currently pursuing a PhD at Cambridge University.

 

出入停车场*

  

车子持续倒退

到位、无回、不悔

不能够有发光的青春碎片

火箭降落了

回忆开走了

柏拉图像飞走的伞

停车场常伪装为一枚句号

习惯系上了安全带

预备在车程中观赏一段周而复始的连续剧

雨刷的动作让我以为这是一出怀旧电影

预感是影印出来的大海

眼神是指南针

望后镜中的目光终于接近最熟悉最普通的温柔

不是错位,不能忘记回过身

 

原来停车场亦不是逗号

明天和旅程不会重复

街灯和拉上的手控刹车器轻声告诉你

停车是一道暧昧不清、赤裸的分号

停顿的微光和下车的脚步声

连身裙似的把错落情节依次缝起

 

下雨的停车场像停尸间

送走的尸体刚走掉的幸福

 

 

Entering/Exiting a Carpark

By Chow Teck Seng

 

The car keeps backing

into position, no return, no regret –

no longer possessing the shiny shards of youth.

The rocket has landed.

The memory has wandered off.

Plato, like a flyaway brolly.

The carpark frequently disguises itself as a full stop.

Habitually buckling up the seatbelt

preparing to enjoy a repetitive miniseries during the journey –

the wiping effect makes me think of this as a nostalgic film.

Premonition is a xeroxed sea.

Between the eyes, the needle of a compass.

Within that rear-view glance, finally a most familiar and mundane tenderness.

Not a dislocation, but unable to forget ever turning back.

 

So the carpark is also not a comma.

The next day, as well as the journey, will not repeat.

Streetlamps and the pulled handbrake softly inform you

that a car, stopping, is an unclear and naked semicolon.

The taillights and the sound of alighting footsteps

stitch up the misaligned scenes like garment seams.

 

The carpark, in the rain, is like the fleeing

happiness of a corpse that has just left the mortuary.

 

(Translation by Yong Shu Hoong)

 

* previously published, without the English translation, in Chow Teck Seng’s Poetry of You and Me (Lingzi Media, 2012)
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Poetry, Translation

Yong Shu Hoong – The Path of Least Resistance (translated into Chinese by Chow Teck Seng)

Yong Shu Hoong has authored one poetry chapbook, Right of the Soil (2016), as well as five poetry collections, including Frottage (2005) and The Viewing Party (2013), which won the Singapore Literature Prize in 2006 and 2014 respectively. His poems and short stories have been published in literary journals like Quarterly Literary Review Singapore and Asia Literary Review (Hong Kong), and anthologies like Language for a New Century (W.W. Norton, 2008). He is the editor of anthologies like Passages: Stories of Unspoken Journeys (2013), as well as Here Now There After (2017), which was part of The Commuting Reader series commissioned for the #BuySingLit movement. He is one of the four co-authors of The Adopted: Stories from Angkor (2015) and Lost Bodies: Poems Between Portugal and Home (2016).

 

The Path of Least Resistance

 

Sit back, relax… unclench the fists.

It’s peace of mind we’re paying for –

and we’re paying a lot – when we

entrust the task of navigating these

unacquainted roads to an assigned

driver-for-hire. But this hardly

justifies our trust in the system; or

is it a collective resignation to fate?

Fate, as in the game of chance,

or divine will that we assume will

always be to our advantage. Breathe

in and out, as our van weaves in and

out of traffic flow. We’d like to think

the driver knows what he’s doing,

though he doth tootle on the horn

too much, especially when he’s trying

to warn any car that gets in his way

and needs to be overtaken. It seems

one false move by one of the many

stakeholders could spell disaster, yet

everything hangs in balance. Faith,

I tell my agitated heart, faith! Let

nature – the human kind included

– take its course, as man and car meld

into a single deity, all-seeing, that

rips us through the slaughter of sun

and sheets of rain, passing road-

hogging tuk-tuks along mist-shrouded

winding roads… before providing

in these verdant hills and plantations

an elixir for the violence of our pursuit.

 

 

 

通往无碍之路

 

坐下,放轻松…握紧的拳头松开

为了安心 就用钱来买方便
却买出个代价  这是我们
到陌生地  把驾驶工作 交托

某一随机安排租车司机   的结果 这还

真辜负了大家对体制的信任 或说
这只是种集体宿命行为?
命运  一种或然率的游戏

抑或 一种我们总误会  会天从人意
的天意    来 来  深吸一口气

再呼气   小包车在车流中骄纵

蛇行   我们本该信任

身为司机  当知其所当为  即使

他的连环追命喇叭  按得着实

过多  而且是为肃清自己前行车道  防止

任何挡路、意欲超车者介入  仿佛

警告其他公路使用者  千钧一发

错误  将导致他们的灾难       信任
我告诉自己亢奋的小心脏  要信任
任一切  顺其自然   自是那种

人为的自然——人、车将

天人合一    成仙成佛  仿佛  人在做

天在看  我们如何穿透雨  穿过夺命的阳光

穿过所有在蜿蜒路上挡道的嘟嘟车

九死一生后   再为我们的横行霸道

用葱葱郁郁之山峦与稻田
豁然指引出   一条救赎之道

 

(Translation by Chow Teck Seng)

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Poetry, Translation

Chow Teck Seng – “穿上 脱下 ——穿衣的哲学” (translated into English by Yong Shu Hoong)

Singapore-born Chow Teck Seng writes poetry primarily in Chinese. Frequently contributing to literary journals, anthologies and the Chinese press in Singapore and abroad, he has won awards such as the Singapore Literature Prize (2014) and Golden Point Award (2009). His poems in English translation are found in & Words: Poems Singapore and Beyond (2010), Union: 15 Years of Drunken Boat, 50 Years of Writing from Singapore (2015), SG Poems 2015–2016 and the online journal, Poetry at Sangum. They have also been adapted as short films by students of Lasalle College of the Arts in 2017. A former lecturer (in Chinese-language literature) at the National University of Singapore and National Institute of Education, he is currently pursuing a PhD at Cambridge University.

 

穿上 脱下

    ——穿衣的哲学*

 

你脱下,我们穿上

穿上纯真,脱下端庄

美丽的幼儿园我们穿上校服

裹在一个哪吒还未被遗忘的年代

步向水漫小学学堂快乐的倾盆中

脱下原本刷了白油的帆布鞋

脱下,洁白的颜色如水脱下

脱,连濡湿的袜子都脱下

然后穿上明年,穿上成长

 

穿上睡衣、白衣蓝裙、衬衫、长裤皮鞋

穿上内衣、家居服、百慕达、拖鞋

扣纽扣、绑上腰带、拉平皱痕

拉上拉链、整理领口

女人画唇画眉、上妆

涂上香水、装上耳环

僧人穿上僧服、世人结上领带

树穿上像化妆品面膜的日光

穿上如网的年轮

脱下叶子、美貌

男人穿上军服,戴上爱国主义

脱下春夏秋冬

削了皮的苹果,《小王子》中摇尾的狐狸

蛇褪下过时的蛇皮,壁虎脱掉时间的尾巴

天使是穿上衣服还是赤身裸体?

魔鬼是戴上面具抑或是裸露狰狞?

 

在陌生的婚宴、政治正确的场合

我们最终穿上笔挺的西装

外套、面具,一副金框的眼镜

手中紧握着酒杯

酒杯,它戴着一副世故的光亮

 

 

Put On/Slip Off

– The philosophy of dressing

 

By Chow Teck Seng

 

 

You slip off, we put on

Put on innocence, slip off decorum.

For our beautiful kindergarten we put on uniforms

Tucked in an era where Nezha hadn’t yet been forgotten

Walking towards the school’s rain-soaked compound

Slipping off canvas shoes coated with whitener

Slipping off, the whiteness slips off like water

Slipping, even the wet socks slip off,

And then putting on the upcoming year, putting on growth.

 

Putting on pyjamas white shirt blue skirt dress shirt trousers leather shoes

Putting on underwear house clothes Bermuda shorts slippers

Button up, belt up, smoothen the creases

Zip up, tidy up the collar.

The women paint their lips, ink their brows, put on makeup

Dab on perfume, fix on earrings.

The monks put on robes, the heathens knot their neckties.

The trees put on sunshine as a cosmetic mask

Put on the years like a net

Slip off leaves and beauty.

The men put on army uniforms and wear patriotism on their sleeves

Slip off the four seasons.

The apples are skinless, the fox is wagging its tail in The Little Prince,

The snakes unroll outdated skins, the lizards shake off their timely tails.

Are angels fully-clothed or naked?

Is the devil masked or baring his fangs?

 

In wedding banquets of strangers, and politically-correct occasions,

We would still be putting on sharp suits

Jackets, masks, gold-rimmed glasses

Wine glasses tight in our clasp –

Glasses that wear a certain sophisticated sheen.

 

(Translation by Yong Shu Hoong)

 

* previously published, without the English translation, in Chow Teck Seng’s Poetry of You and Me (Lingzi Media, 2012)

 

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Poetry, Translation

Yong Shu Hoong – Skin-deep (translated into Chinese by Chow Teck Seng)

Yong Shu Hoong has authored one poetry chapbook, Right of the Soil (2016), as well as five poetry collections, including Frottage (2005) and The Viewing Party (2013), which won the Singapore Literature Prize in 2006 and 2014 respectively. His poems and short stories have been published in literary journals like Quarterly Literary Review Singapore and Asia Literary Review (Hong Kong), and anthologies like Language for a New Century (W.W. Norton, 2008). He is the editor of anthologies like Passages: Stories of Unspoken Journeys (2013), as well as Here Now There After (2017), which was part of The Commuting Reader series commissioned for the #BuySingLit movement. He is one of the four co-authors of The Adopted: Stories from Angkor (2015) and Lost Bodies: Poems Between Portugal and Home (2016).

 

Skin-deep

 

When a batch of my books arrives

from my publisher’s warehouse, I notice

 

Added annotations: yellowed specks

and blotches; I worry about customer

complaints over such imperfections.

 

A more understanding reader accepts

these pages as living tissues capable

of aging gracefully with the weather.

 

Nothing remains in mint condition

 

For too long. When I part my shirt,

I try to decrypt the coded message

of moles new and ancient; scars

of different vintages; spots, like the

smattering on the sun’s photosphere…

 

Then learning how Roman soldiers

used to chisel faces off statues, I

consider what memories I wish to

blanch from history, which words

to erase from skin. And enquire:

Should I advocate a return to that

shrink-wrapped state of newness?

 

Or otherwise remain, like grand

trees that lent me their name,

peaceable within reams of barks:

 

What’s mottled, and overlaid with lichens,

is a new body for my remaining journey.

 

深入皮相

 

当自己一批诗集从

出版社货仓 抵达家中 赫然发觉

 

竟新添注脚:大小黄斑

点点。我有点忧心,会否

有人客诉,是瑕疵品

 

善解人意的读者一定理解:

书页也如生死的皮肤组织

是阴晴干湿、岁月的优雅见证

一切皆不能恒久弥新

 

太久。像舍一件上衣时

我尽可能为一切新旧斑、痣

属不同复古潮流的痕  太阳敷于上

的一层浅薄光晕等  密码般解密

 

在知悉罗马士兵如何

自雕像上锥除一张张的脸后

我更思索自己会从历史中漂白

哪份记忆  把哪些文辞

从皮肤上删改剔除?并追问:

我是否还该鼓吹   回归

裹上透明包装纸  的那种新

 

又或,留。留如树会借我名字

留若树死留皮  成纸成册    留则

成就树之宏伟不朽  与强悍巍峨——

 

而那长苔、 长廯的将是我

留存人间最后旅程    的新肉身

 

(Translation by Chow Teck Seng)

 

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Fiction

Greg Baines – excerpts from “Guerilla War: A Love Story” (Part 2)

Lindon – Glass rooms

Ground which can be abandoned but is hard to re-occupy is called ‘entangling’. From a position of this sort, if the enemy is unprepared, you may sally forth and defeat him. But if the enemy is prepared for your coming, and you fail to defeat him, then, return being impossible, disaster will ensue.”


(Sun Zi, Chpt. 10, 4 and 5)

I’m hung over from the third formal welcome dinner for me in the last several days. My throat is dry and my clothes smell of a hotpot meal and bijoe, a potent head-splitting white spirit. I squeeze out of the taxi into a bloom of humanity and as soon as I am upright and ready to walk away from the curb someone has jumped into the taxi and it is away again. I thread through people and pass between two bicycles with fruit laid out for sale on a tray behind the bicycle seats, my head pounding with each footstep like there is a direct line from my feet to my brain. I side step a beggar in blue jeans and Nike shoes who smells of mold and pushes a small dented plastic disposable cup full of old coins at me. I need all my coins and so I ignore him, pretend I haven’t see him.

A glass cube stuck to the side of the building hauls me away from the mess below. I notice a couple holding hands in the throng and I watch them as the lift ascends, wondering if I will ever be able to forget the scars Julie has left and be able to do that again with someone.

The American CEO is standing waiting for me as the lift doors ease open, an age-scarred version of the young man in the image with Zhang Zimin. He shakes my hand so hard the bones in my fingers creak under the strain and I wonder if he shook Zhang Ziminn’s hand like that, wonder if he dared.

We go up to the boardroom, a space almost completely devoid of concrete walls- it’s just curtains of glass on never ending city. The carpet has probably just been rolled out in here because it hasn’t even been attached to the floor, I can see it rolls up at the corners and sides.

I have borrowed all I can, stretched the goodwill of my family and friends to the limit just to get here- I’m anxious to get my signature down on the contract so I can start paying people back. But I forget all that for a moment and allow myself to be distracted by the view; it’s overwhelming, engulfing. The CEO notices and he says, “It’s quite a city isn’t it?” and I nod, trying to obscure my hunger. An old grey landscape is being swept away by glass steel and concrete stacked up by hundreds of cranes. It’s mesmerizing and my heart starts to pound when I think of the money to be made here, the staggering numbers that must lie beneath me.

His secretary comes in, she looks perfect, newly minted, like she has just come out of a box on a shelf. She tilts her head and smiles at me but doesn’t stop to talk- I’m part of a task she must perform, nothing more.

A large model of the apartment complex sits in the middle of a new office in a corner, the completed foam replica of the apartments we will build twenty stories into the sky. It looks small after my last job, like a toy. The CEO sees me looking over at the model and he waves me over toward it. From a distance it looks like a miniature of the real thing, but as we get closer I see plastic edges, sloppy paint and it looks fragile and cheap.

He begins to talk me through some figures on the number of apartments and their expectations but he is interrupted. Some locals in suits come to the door, ask to speak to him. He speaks for a while in Chinese that, to my untrained ear, sounds as good as the locals he is talking to, then excuses himself from me and turns to go.

I put out my hand, touch his sleeve, my anxiety spilling out, “The contract, is it ready to sign?”

He smiles, glances down at my hand, “It’s been finalized now, but if you have some settling in tasks to do, you can come back this afternoon or tomorrow morning.”

I try to curb my impatience, keep a smile on my face, slow my voice down, “I may as well sign it now, I can wait here.”

He nods and points in the direction of a meeting room he says my contract will be delivered to in a little while. He says there is a pile of magazines in there and then he strides away from me engrossed in his next conversation.

I take a wrong turn, end up at the doorway to another office. A lady in a black suit sits opposite a shorter woman who is crying- tears roll down her cheeks and drip off her chin. I stand shocked for a second, I don’t know what to say. The woman in black points in the other direction and pushes the door shut on me. I don’t understand what I have just seen, I’m trying to survive each day blindfolded and I’m stumbling ahead one step at a time.

His secretary is in the meeting room, she has a thick wad of paper wedged in her hands. I stare at it, hoping it’s my contract and she looks up at me and says, “Mr Lin, we are ready.”

“It’s Lindon.” I correct her, my eyes on the paper in her hands.

She laughs but her eyes are on something over my shoulder, “Mr Lin, please step inside so we can deal with the documents.” She motions for me to enter the meeting room and I step toward her and settle into a seat, lean forward in her direction opposite me. She lays the document down between us, the tips of her fingers resting on it. Her nails are painted a thick glossy red. She looks at me, the smile gone. I reach forward to pull the document toward me but her fingers press down and the document is stuck between us.

She says quietly, “There are certain formalities that we must discuss first.”

“Of course.”

“This is China so one of the documents you will sign here requires you to be aware that your contract will be terminated if you violate the laws and morals of the People’s Republic of China.” I pull a little harder on the document but she doesn’t release it, she asks, “Are you aware of what this means?”

I’m not but I don’t care. I say, to dodge more lengthy unnecessary talk, “Yes, of course.”

She lifts her fingers and I pull the document toward me, start flicking through the pages. She anticipates me and as I look up to ask for it, she slides across a black pen. She makes no eye contact, she is already lost in her mobile phone, onto a new person, a new task.

I scribble in signatures where required, ignoring all the fine print, ignoring all the conditions. The only figure I check is the monthly salary and bonus. I smile as I finish and slide the documents eagerly across the table. I sit back, relieved. I have not disguised how much I need the job with my eagerness.

The numbers in the contract have so many zeros I forget my hang over, the jackhammers in my head. As I rise to leave, smiling stupidly, she says she has to tell me something else. She slides the meeting room door closed, and shuffles her chair next to mine as I sit back down. I can smell her perfume, it’s strong and flowery. She leans toward me and begins to tell me about nail houses.

The lift seems to take an age to get to the ground floor. I stare at the floor working through what I have just learned, feel the weight of it bearing down on me. I find myself, naively, looking for the couple holding hands but I see instead people alone, their hands in pockets, their eyes far away.

 

 

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Greg Baines - excerpts from "Guerilla War: A Love Story" (Part 2)

Lindon – Glass rooms “Ground which can be abandoned but is hard to re-occupy is called ‘entangling’. From a position of this sort, if the enemy is unprepared, you...

Yong Shu Hoong - The Path of Least Resistance (translated into Chinese by Chow Teck Seng)

Yong Shu Hoong has authored one poetry chapbook, Right of the Soil (2016), as well as five poetry collections, including Frottage (2005) and The Viewing Party (2013), which won...