Two Poems by Jocelyn Li

Notwithstanding
the world’s balance, held in a bowl of lotus root soup, 
on the seventh day Confucius comes back to life  

  in flip flops: pinched toes, strapped soles, memorabilia of great
grandmas 三寸金蓮1  — gilded feet

wrapped in make-belief, made to believe
 the path from ⨯ to ∞ is elastic 

and stroking the 25th paragon of filial piety: a herbal store cat
					free to roam around          but never really strays far away.

along clearwater bay we meander where sand tiptoes into sea, 
flip flops like gills, coddled in salt to imitate the brine-dipped sun

and remind ourselves the real reason we’re good with numbers 
is because we see the bars wedged between
	
       Flip            Flop
       	 Filial            Follicle
       髮膚            父母2 
            Freedom            Family		

for what they are: polynomials set in plastic
to outlive alluvials and landfills 

and last through reincarnations, the same way our almost-parallel lives
converge and form webbed toes, a phantom ache

like rubber bands snapping our foot into porcelain bowls,
stinging deeper, the farther we sway past the rim.
Variations on Forbidden Words
I.
Gunshots
used to be scarier
and less scary
when you thought
they only belonged
in crime scenes 
and police-
triad films.

Imagine Spiderman
              hanging off IFC, 
or Godzilla 
spying on your 100 sq-ft apartment's
full glory. 			Hell, 
what if dragons roamed 
over our LegCo instead    	
				(though bathing in flames sure is preferable
				to 23 years of simmering - 
				only the chosen generation gets to be barbecued
				like Christ, smile through the sacrifice)?

Kindle our fury, keep us bubbling
in a wok of absurdity for too long
and nothing will astonish us anymore.
Keep us at the edge of our seat.
But don't tip us over.   	
					Not with some of us huddling in a church,
				helmets tossed into bushes, while on our phone screens
				another boy's face drains of colour as he rolls back,
				gun pushed into his chest. Not with strangers still trying
				to fill the bullet hole with koala biscuits, patch up our guilt
				with congealed chocolate and crumbs.

Gunshots on TV and applause
around the Dim Sum restaurant; 
Granny yells ‘Cockroach!’ as a sea of black
parts for an ambulance on screen.
My ears still ring from the chants, shattering 
soundproof glass that kept me standing apart 
for so long.  Imagine the shock
of gunshots, sound off, not a subtitle in sight.




II. 
5 2 0 1 3 1 43 , or alternatively
I don’t believe in marriage but promise
to love you till the end of time. Or,
I pray for pride and light to return to us.

Remember when we hiked up Lion Rock mountain
to upend the trails, just before night fell last year?
Count the steps it took to build
a new path that guides us home: two million - 

Our identity, interwoven into fishball
stalls, the linings of our masks,
our weeknight runs. We used to fill the streets with words,
haunt the walls with multi-coloured wishes,
whispered into an empty post-it note.

We learnt to go back to our roots - 
seek meaning in geometry, in 傘4 
which began with just another person
protecting as many people
as their arms can reach -
before symbols too became subversive.

5 2 0 1 3 1 4, or alternatively,
if I stick around till all that’s left is tear-gassed silence,
would you stay, too?

  1. Three-inch golden lotus’ – a traditional phrase referring to bound feet.
  2. ‘Hair and skin; mother and father’ – taken from ‘身體髮膚,受之父母’ (Every bit of our body, including hair and skin, are given to us by our mother and father, and thus by wounding ourselves we inflict harm on our parents) which is one of the most well-known teachings in Confucius’ Classics of Filial Piety.
  3. The numbers, which share the same Cantonese tones as Hong Kong’s protest anthem ‘Glory to Hong Kong’, have been adopted by Hongkongers as a code to evade political censorship after the enactment of the ‘National Security Law’ on 1 July 2020. The numbers are also widely-used as a homophone of 我愛你一生一世 in Cantonese, translated to ‘I love you forever’.
  4. 傘 (saan) – umbrella; a Chinese logogram which resembles multiple 人(humans) standing under a bigger 人.

Jocelyn Li’s poetry has appeared in Glass, Oxford Poetry, PEN Hong Kong and Voice & Verse Poetry Magazine among others, and is forthcoming in Diagram. She lives in Hong Kong with her pet lizard and frog.

 

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