Facing South

29 June 2008

We were making revolution when the phone rang.
Hello, it's Lionel Richie here, taking you
to a past you never knew. Characters in horizontal strips
construct a street: Shanghai's longtangs fan out in zig-zag networks
while at noon in the capital all the shadows run north.

A dry look with frosted hair, he takes solace in wine:
'Who now can tell a common Magpie Flower
from a Phoenix-headed White or a Purple Jade wing?
And whatever happened to Brother Swallow,
banished to Hainan Island all those years ago?'

Come and see the dragon's blood oozing out of the city's
punctured walls, they say. Stacked for removal, chipped tiles
are ripe for recording. Here are manicured pines for the poet in you,
and for your kids we put the monkeys in zoos. 'These strangers
without ancestors', he says, 'When will they return home?'

In a browning photograph, a string of camels
laden with imperial gifts steps warily through the city gate
as the Northern horseman smells the leak of imperial air.
In Lu Xun's courtyard, wild grass forces space
between the pavers. New shoots of ivy bloom
rose, rust, sunset and cherry on the weathered wall.
Then: 'Five or six beggars from god knows where,
stretching their dirty hands towards me –
are these citizens of the capital?' Adding a third hand
to each watch, this is reform.

Outside the Workers' Stadium, kites fly higher than flags,
hollowing white blanks from the brown wash.
'Are the people of Huihsien County still doing fine?'
Gobi dust is a remainder that sticks in your throat, but so
is the faint vanilla aftertaste of silver-tipped jasmine tea.

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