:: Article

Two poems

By Tammy Ho Lai-Ming.

Childhood Friend

I remember sitting on the floor and saw
after your morning pee: the dangling of a ding-dong bell.
It used to be a mere dark slit, when we were still small.
If I open my mouth now and look into the mirror there’s another bell
in my sore throat. It’s swollen.

When I visited you for the last time that Winter,
the air was too dry and your skin flayed and fell.
You didn’t want to go out and we spent the weekend making sure
all things were charged. You were still bad-mouthed.
‘Fuck your audio faces!’ you shouted to the smug-assed people on the radio,
talking about pseudo-randomness and the predictability of chance.

But I wanted Chinese food. I came all the way, I yelled.
Florescent lights did not select faces. Chinatown, crowded, felt
empty. You demanded of the waiter: “Answer my Cantonese question
in Mandarin.” What the hell did that mean?
On the way back, your belt broke on the train.
The buckle pulled off like the head of a snake.

Before I left, we had a farewell toast. It was hardly noon.
There were raspberries in our vodka, and a slice of lime.
You told me then that you were happy—
No more. You didn’t dread the day
when someone sitting behind you in a hospital gets annoyed
by a stray strand of white hair on your head.

to see the world

–for Dorothee Lang

If you had to choose
between traveling around the world in one day
and waiting for the train with me for five minutes,
which would you choose?

To see the world in under two dawns,
better than a grain of sand.
Its rise & decay in ruins — now tourist sites.
Its loving nothingness in city glass buildings—
miniature Babel towers.
If you are lucky, you’ll see ten wedding ceremonies,
fifteen births in baths,
people yelping & rising from Blowing Rock.
On a remote village road, barefoot children grow or wane,
while daffodils beg for rain. Someone
in the East collects gutter oil for high-end restaurants.
You see soldiers in war zones. Their family
are convinced they’ll be back for Christmas.

Or to wait with me for five minutes—
allow me to hold your hand amidst this flock of
chance passengers and passing chances—
if only to understand one thing:
that we can still the world
in an eternity of nano-seconds.

Wait with me, confident
that if you are bored of this compressed lifetime,
another one is pressing down the track.


Tammy Ho Lai-Ming is a Hong Kong-born writer currently based in London, UK. She is a founding co-editor of Cha: An Asian Literary Journal. More at www.sighming.com.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, July 15th, 2011.