Sunday, March 10, 2024

Dream After Dream

 —Poetry by Hongwei Bao, Nottingham, UK
—Peach Blossom Photos Courtesy of
Public Domain

The Peach Blossom Garden is not a dream,
or a fantasy. One simply needs to know how

to find it. You follow a murmuring
stream that zigzags in front of you. Walk

upstream until a giant rock stands
in your way. The origin of the stream is hidden

beneath the rock. You climb up
the giant rock, a small path unfolds

amidst green meadows. Keep walking
towards the pink clouds that adorn

the sky. Do not look back until you arrive
at a red-lacquered garden gate decorated

by golden frames. Push the gate gently
open. Have no fear. You will be greeted

by dancing butterflies, buzzing bees, chirping
birds and a garden full of peach flowers.

If you feel thirsty and hungry, sit down and sip
the dewdrops or eat the nectars from the flowers.

If you feel tired, lie down on the soft soil covered
by fallen peach flower petals, and fall

asleep, dream after dream. 

for Minglu

On New Year’s Eve my best friend posted a picture
on Facebook showing her having a picnic with her
husband. Both wearing T-shirts (because it is
there), smiling radiantly to the camera, Chardonnay
glasses sparkling in their hands. Two plates full
of rice
and curry invite appetite. Apples and bananas wait
patiently on the checked tablecloth. A still life
A giant jeep stands brooding behind them, its green
surface and shiny glass translucent. Underneath lies
the yellow sand and stone. Above, twigs extend like
a spider web. Against the backdrop are trees (or
as the Aussies say) pressed low by silver clouds,
reminiscent of an old Turner painting but set
on the Australian outback on a hot summer day. 


In that dark, narrow neighbourhood bar,
tucked inside an alleyway,
time stands still.

Dust dances in the sunbeam.
Beer and food stains on the table.
Stories of thick and thin times.

That pungent smell saturates the air,
pounding hearts,
speeding up breaths.

How many rounds have I walked past,
wandering outside
before finally giving in?

How many casual conversations have I struck up,
unfolding another life,
a different shade of loneliness?

How many times have I stood in trance
before the washer, clothes carrying
the mixed odours of cigarette, alcohol and sweat,

the memories of
this man’s bulging veins on his hands,
that man’s trimmed mustache on his lips? 


We met at the Mardi Gras
last summer and kissed
under the rainbow-coloured Sydney sun.

The cross necklace you wore
on your neck
dangled in front of your chest.

Now I see you wake up
in the middle of the night, gazing
at the cross, deep in thought.

How can you
stagger into a church on a Sunday morning,
hair messy, eyes half-closing,

alcohol in every breath, listening
to the preachings of Adam and Eve
almost dozing off;

waiting patiently in a queue
for a pathetic-looking piece of wafer
and a drop of sugar-loaded wine

after a Saturday night out
at a gay club, drinking shots and pints,
dancing till your legs ache?

And how can you
still pick up the Book and pray
after we’ve had sex and drugs?

What have you told the priest
that you won’t tell me?

Do I ever feature
in your heart-wrenching confession? 


Just imagine—
the consultant raises his voice, arms spread wide:
a school without departments and departmental
teachers allowed to teach what they are researching;
students able to choose what they are interested in,
walk into a service centre and have all their
problems solved;
fewer staff which would mean less bureaucracy,
more efficiency,
better customer service, greater satisfaction rates—
how wonderful, how exciting this would be!

The consultant drops his arms, still wearing that
dreamlike smile, satisfied with the rhetorical
force of his words, rehearsed so many times.
His thick eyebrows sweep across a room
full of impressed managers, silent staff.

Trying to avoid his eye contact,
I look out of the window and gaze
at the small patches of blue sky
amid accumulating dark clouds. 


On those long, winter nights,
I and my friends, a group
of university students, pondered
on the meanings of life,
stomachs rumbling after a whole
evening’s banter, film, music, computer game.
Someone shouted:
The pancake man is here!

We rushed downstairs,
in our thinly layered clothes, pyjamas even,
competing with one another
to see who could get there first.

Outside the dorm building,
on the pavement, dimly lit
by the streetlamps, stood a man
with his tricycle, a hot
pancake stove installed on the back.
White steam rose in the air.
Sweet aroma stimulated the nostrils.

We stood in a zigzagging queue
rubbing hands, stamping feet,
waiting for our turn, knowing
it would be worth the wait.

Those were cold nights
and bright days.
Twenty years later,
the chilly wind of the night
still penetrates my bones.
The sweet smell of the pancakes
still titillates my stomach.
The young faces of my friends
still shimmer in my head. 


Last night I saw a puppy.
small and white, a Labrador, I think,
standing on the cast-iron bridge
not knowing where to go.

Then I saw you. You bent down
and picked it up. It didn’t struggle.
Its soft white limbs resting in your arms.
Its bright eyes staring at you
—that clear pool of water!
You hugged the puppy
as if holding a baby. You carried it
across the bridge and gently put it down.

I don’t know what happened next.
I couldn’t tell where the dog came from,
or what it was doing out there.
I wasn’t sure where I was,
or if I was there. It was a still
image with a clear foreground
and blurred background.
A deep focus.

Perhaps it was a dream.
Perhaps I was thinking about the puppy
I never had. An idea
you’ve always said no to.

Perhaps I wish I was that puppy.
When I got lost, you’d come
to my rescue, picking me up,
hugging me gently in your arms.


Today’s LittleNip:

We should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once. And we should call every truth false which was not accompanied by at least one laugh.

—Friedrich Nietzsche


Newcomer Hongwei Bao grew up in Inner Mongolia, China, and now lives in Nottingham, UK. He uses short stories, poems and essays to explore queer desire, Asian identity, diasporic positionality and transcultural intimacy. His creative work has appeared or is forthcoming in
Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, The Rialto, Shanghai Literary Review, The Hooghly Review, The Ponder Review, the other side of hope, The Voice & Verse Poetry Magazine and Write On. His flash fiction, ‘A Postcard from Berlin’, won the second prize in the Plaza Prize for Microfiction in 2023. His debut collection, The Passion of the Rabbit God, is forthcoming from Valley Press in Summer 2024. Welcome to the Kitchen, Hongwei, and don’t be a stranger!


 Hongwei Bao

A reminder that Loch Henson
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