Saturday, May 04, 2024

Year Of The Dragon

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

in the marathon
of zodiac animals, a rat
leaps across an ox, a tiger
and a rabbit and turns into
a powerful dragon

why is the world
still trapped in the dark
rathole of time and turmoil
like an old and mouldy
piece of rag

*2024 is Year of the Dragon in the Chinese zodiac calendar, whose twelve-year cycle starts with Year of the Rat. 


My phone will be on ‘China mode’ next week,
which means
Facebook, Instagram, X, WhatsApp will be out of
Google, Gmail and Youtube can only be accessed
via a VPN,
WeChat becomes the most powerful tool in the
world, functioning
as a phone, messenger, wallet, bus and train ticket,
shopping platform.
Life has never been so convenient, and yet also so
        I’d better think twice before I post anything

I will be on ‘China mode’ next week, constantly
on the way
from one place to another, with no time for delay.
Every night a feast with friends or family, nostalgic
about the past but unsentimental about the present.
Put to bed by alcohol and waking up feeling surreal. 
I’ll be missing our garden—the roses must be in full
        the cherries must be ripe, and you must be
        thinking of me. 


The opposite of a tinfoil
is a microwave oven.
A lesson the ten-year-old me
learned when I did my first
cooking, which is a big
word to use for the chicken
chow-mein Mum left me
in the fridge.

The door was shut.
Time was set.
A hummingbird
appeared on the translucent
glass plate, bathed
in a warm, orange light,
gleefully singing, dancing—

The grinding halt of the oven.
A flash of white light.
A column of smoke.
Flickering frames.

Silence and darkness returned.
I stared at the oven, petrified
as if having just witnessed
a volcanic eruption.

The hummingbird was gone.

The opposite of Mum and Dad
was the lukewarm chicken chow-mein
wrapped in a tinfoil, standing still
in a damaged microwave oven.
The flying away of a hummingbird. 


The sun will hide behind clouds and the dark clouds
will hang low in the sky.

Birch leaves will sigh in the wind and daffodils will
drop their heads.

Birds will stop whistling; bees will hide in their
and butterflies will lose interest in spring.

Clock hands will freeze, stations concourse will be
empty, and trains will decide to hibernate.

Road signs will disappear, guiding arrows will fade,
and traffic lights will shut their eyes.

Aunt Zhang will be visiting, bringing her loud
laughter, sharp tongue, and a perpetual curiosity

        about whether I’ve got a girlfriend, when I’ll
        be married, and what she can do to help. 


I’ve always known I’m an ET, an extra-terrestrial
landing from another planet,
making my home on the earth.   

At home, Dad said, ‘man up’, taking me to football
to see how men run around only to chase a ball,
teaching me how to be tough and rough.  

At kindergarten, children laughed at me,
imitating how I walked from behind, or in front.
‘Queer’, they chanted, ‘where is your tutu?’  

At school, fellow pupils kept away from me,
asking why I didn’t like maths or science,  
instead taking an interest in words and verses.  

At university, I went to a counsellor,
asking why I was different from others
and why I was attracted to boys instead of girls.

When I first came to this country, I was seen
as a foreigner, not being able to speak English
not knowing how to use a knife and fork.  

‘Where are you from, and where do you really
come from?’
‘How long are you staying, and when are you
Friendly words from strangers, with no intention
to hurt.

When the pandemic started, people stayed away
from me,
throwing swear and stares. ‘China virus’, a guy
shouted on the street,
‘Go back to your own country.’

When I had the opportunity to visit China,
I was a foreigner there, struggling to fit in with
my rusty Mandarin
and ideas considered too foreign and western.

Perhaps I am an ET after all, an abandoned child
from another planet, coming to the earth as a loner,
making home here as an alien, a refugee,
an immigrant.  


As a teenager, I wrote
dozens of poems about life.
Everything—parents’ divorce,
grandparents’ deaths, failed exams,
first-love heartaches—
invariably turned into fine
opportunities to muse on life.  

I shut myself indoors, listening to
Beethoven’s No. 5, anticipating
mysterious knocks on the door,
showering my diary
with Young Werther’s sorrows, composing
farewell letters but lacking
courage to send them out.
Each separation, every reunion,
felt as big as life, as heavy as death.  
I thought I knew what life is.

Decades later, no matter how much
I pull my grey hair, grind my decaying teeth,
I can’t write a word about life.
Each effort is a self-defeating exercise.
Every claim appears precarious, superficial,
All emotional ups and downs,
familiar pages in a dogeared diary.
All high and low tides,
accompanied by unpredictable undercurrents.

Truth is, I don’t know what life is.


Today’s LittleNip:

I do not care what comes after; I have seen the dragons on the wind of morning.

—Ursula K. Le Guin,
The Farthest Shore


—Medusa, welcoming Hongwei Bao back this morning, with thanks for these poems exploring his Chinese heritage.
Hongwei Bao

A reminder that there will be
a workshop in Lodi this morning
with Nancy Gonzalez St. Clair;
and, this afternoon, Josh Fernandez
will read from his new book at
Avid Reader in Sacramento, 2pm.
For info about these and other
future poetry happenings in
Northern California and otherwheres,
click on
in the links at the top of this page—
and keep an eye on this link and on
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