A hot day. A muddy stream
weaved by twigs.
There you are.
Neither a swan nor a goose,
your neck still attempts some grace.
you aren’t taken seriously.
If you’re going to tell a joke
involving an animal,
make it a duck.
Is it because of
your elongated beak?
Your monogamous habit?
Perhaps it’s the sudden quack.
The orphaned babies.
But you should have stopped
the day they coated
you bright yellow
and made you a toy,
for it would take
your plastic likeness
Long after you and I
die, little duck,
your clone will
Exactly when do I become a hero?
My torso’s torn and my head’s thrown
Into the river, my songs sing of sorrow.
My blood has sprinkled the corn rows;
Fecund sun shines as it has always shone.
Exactly when do I become a hero?
Someone, pray, shoot my head an arrow.
Right through the temple, I dread the unknown.
This river, nothing sings but my sorrow.
Let my eyes become a feast for sparrows,
Let oracles be burned into my bones.
I don’t care whether I’d become a hero.
Before, lithe maidens surrounded my shadows,
I loved only my woman but craved their breastbones.
Now, in this river, my solo company is sorrow.
Face down hell. You can’t face down eros.
Yet poets are shriven for their songs.
Exactly when do I become a hero?
Nightingales greet, I sing nothing but sorrow.
Tammy Ho Lai-ming (website) and Reid Mitchell have been writing together for several years. Their creative works have previously been published in Admit 2, Barrow Street, Caffeine Destiny, Diagram, Fringe, Ghoti, Rhythm Poetry Magazine, Poetry Super Highway, qarrtsiluni and elsewhere. They are both involved in Cha: An Asian Literary Journal.
Painter 1: Let me paint over this part.
Painter 2: But that’s my signature.
Woman: Will you not sit down for just ten minutes? Ten minutes is all I need.
Man: I gave you ten hours yesterday. You know we have run dry.
Woman: I will dig a well deep into your skull.
Man: My brains are dust.
Woman: Then we will excavate the marrow of your bones.
“Variations on a Theme” is composed of two very short and quirky sections. They are in fact variations of the same theme: intensive collaboration going sour. The first part features two painters working on a painting together. The second part is more ambiguous on what the man and the woman are collaborating; the explicit sexual language adds a gothic atmosphere to the piece.
For additional process notes, see “Debating Love.”
PAT: How easily a sight of anything distracts a thought of a lover. I would, if I could, shut down the world.
FRANKIE: Don’t talk crazy talk. You would shut down the generators that make the electricity that sends the lift to my flat? You would shut down the factories that make the sheets on which we lie? You would break the pipes that bring us water for us to brew tea and brush our teeth? The whole world is in a conspiracy to support our love.
Reid and I have been writing together for about three years now. We write what could be called “literary dialogues,” although someone has commented that what we write are really “juxtaposed monologues” because the characters are often engaged in displaced conversations with themselves. We have also tried writing poems together and found the Villanelle works rather well. Since we live in two places, we write via the internet. Maybe one day we can write together for a longer period, sitting face-to-face.
“Debating Love” is a brief exchange which shows two people’s collaborative effort to delude each other: Pat thinks the world is an obstacle to love, Frankie thinks the world is a confidant of love.
HE: When I walked out my door, I saw the abandoned buildings.
SHE: Even the mailboxes were ripped out, so nobody could write, even if anybody cared to write anybody here ever again.
HE: I heard that parents hid food from their teenage children. At times of hunger, a loaf of bread is better than a thousand year old name.
SHE: You cannot turn nature on its head, and search through your pearls for an oyster or grow meat on fishbone comb.
HE: The telephone lines were good only for crows to perch on. Then we ate all the crows.
SHE: When there was nothing else to eat, the old volunteered their fingers.
HE: They said they needed them no more, with nothing to pick up and put to their lips.
SHE: When we went to cook them, we discovered that our children had eaten all the wood we might burn and chewed our iron pots into pieces.
HE: Our children had grown teeth that could crunch bone.
SHE: My daughter cried, “Eat your father. Grow fat on your father so we can eat you.”
Reading by Dave Bonta and Beth Adams – Download the MP3
POET: I told them to look for the right words in the bluest place. Some turned to the sky. Some observed an odd bruise on an old one. My star students closed their eyes. I knew even if they did not find words, they found sparkling black.
CARPENTER: There were no new nails. We burned down houses and shifted ashes to reclaim old nails. But the houses had been fixed with wooden pegs. So I told the boys to make nails of forks and spoons and wedding rings.
CLOCKSMITH: One was two and two was three. What’s the difference? One hour was no better or worse than another. Only the shadow of a dying tree remained loyal to time. The girls were most stubborn. How do you make twenty-five out of twenty-four? They pouted.
COBBLER: If you run out of cowhide, there’s always pigskin. Or the hides from dogs or goats or sheep. If it came down to it, you could peel your skin off your own thighs for shoes, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
SINGER: It was easy to teach them to sing. It was less easy to teach them to sing with joy. How could I teach them something I didn’t know? My melodies were suspected. We sang songs of frogs, of cranes, of bats.
COBBLER: The fact was, we didn’t have anywhere to walk to anyway.
CLOCKSMITH: And since we didn’t know what day it was, why track the hours?
CARPENTER: Our team built seventeen houses but there was nobody to live in even one of them.
POET: We gnawed on the words we did not forget. The words became smaller but never lost their flavour.
Reading by Dave Bonta – Download the MP3
The Summer shower comes down
as mercilessly as running horses on full speed.
The afternoon news reports again that there’s no news
about the lost fishing vessel of late.
‘It’s okay, he’ll be back.’ They keep telling her.
They keep telling themselves to keep telling her.
Tonight, she leaves home and mounts the pier
on her palms and knees, without help
from her husband, presumably lost in the sea.
Before departure, he said it would be
a marvellous genesis.
To the salted wind and the salted rain
she serves herself. By the morning
she knows he isn’t returning.
The white-haired waves loom high,
clutching tight the wet air.
Sleepless, tired, she curses,
wails to the open sea like a dog being butchered;
but soon no voice comes to her.
She’s turned into a mad statue,
forced to wait for the impossible
by Tammy Ho Lai-ming
reading by Hanani Cha