Thursday, June 27, 2024

Letters From Home

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



Dad points to the shadow
of a boy running
in the dazzling afternoon sun
around the neighbourhood
in ragged clothes,
hair covered with dust,
limbs full of life,
chasing a black cat.  

This could be your life:
indulging in small happiness,
an instant pleasure,
a lifelong regret.

Instead, you’ve chosen this life:
eyes glued to books, mind
travelling thousands of miles,
observing other people’s lives,
feeling their happiness.

The difference is:
you’ll travel far and dream big,
attending university in a city,
having a splendid future; That boy
will stay here, in this town all his life,
becoming a farmer or mechanic,
worrying about daily meals and bills.

Dad’s smile lingers
in the bright future
he’s designed for me.

My heart follows
the little boy
and the black cat. 


Mum gave me a prayer card when I left home.
A small, thin piece of glittering golden plate,
a good luck charm: Buddha on one side,
Sanskrit text on the other, which I can’t read.

Take this with you, Mum said,
the buddha will be with you,
protect your safety,
bless your prosperity.

I’m not religious, and have often laughed
at Mum for being superstitious.
The card in my wallet has travelled with me
from one country to another.

Mum, it’s not the magical power
of the Buddha that I believe in.
It’s your warm gaze that accompanies me
on every step of my journey. 


I visit family in China every summer
when the moon is as red as a hot sickle.  

Mum turns the aircon to its maximum
capacity, a continuous current of cool air.

Dad takes out watermelon from the fridge,
white frost on red cubes.

Sister throws all my clothes into the washer,
and hangs them up like festival banners.

The big, white, fluffy Samoyed sits
on my feet, head rubbing against my legs.

I think of home in the UK, the cool, damp English
weather, the lonely, sleepless nights, and smile. 


It’s the third time this week I’ve been
in this restaurant. Spring couplets
on the doorframe. Red lanterns
above the window. Cherry blossoms

on the wall. I sit down at a corner table,
select a Moo Shu pork dish from the menu:
golden omelette adorned by green
cucumbers and black wood-ear mushrooms.

A middle-aged Chinese woman speaks
to the phone in broken English.
A girl, perhaps a university student, scurries
around with plates in her hands.

People, old and young, are soaked
in the white steam of Hot Pot, the spicy
aroma of Kung Pao Chicken, the heart-
wrenching canton pop from the nineties.

Please don’t blame me for frequenting
this place where many other restaurants
are nearby. The place feels like home:
its sight, its sound, its flavour, its taste—


I call him Knut.

He’s not that cuddly, white bear from the Berlin Zoo, a media celebrity. He’s from the North Pole, living in a hostile environment covered by ice and snow all year round. I don’t know where his habitats are, or whether he has a family. I imagine there must be someone else living in this ice-bound territory, someone he cares about.

When I saw him that day, he was walking along a stream. The sky was azure, and the water was crystal. One could see the white clouds on the mirror-like surface and the rocks at the bottom. Suddenly he stopped. Something in the stream caught his attention. Was it fish? Or was it his own reflection? He sat by the stream for some time. Motionless. What was he thinking about? Did the white polar bear in the water remind him of someone, his parents, his friends, or perhaps his own youth, the lost happy times?

I didn’t know how long I had been watching him. He was still standing there, by the stream. I could hear the wind blowing and the river murmuring. In this white, frozen world, there were just the two of us. Did he know I was around? Did he know I was watching him? That didn’t matter. He was the sovereign in his own world. But what a life would it be if he were the only being in that world?

I felt my frozen hands. I felt my stiff face. I felt the moisture in my eyes. I saw myself in him. A younger self, a self I had a complex relationship with, a self I had decided to part with. 


On my recent visit back
to the hometown, My cousin
points to a gigantic hole in the ground,
half-surrounded by blue metal barriers
and grey concrete barricades:

This is the foundation for a twenty-
storey high tower block, The first
phase of an eco-friendly residential
complex, surrounded by green
lawns and rose gardens, Lotus
ponds and pavilions. Sports facilities
in front of a kindergarten.

Following his flourishing
arm and empty gaze, I see myself
seated in the pavilion, a gentle
breeze brushing my face, small
waves rippling in the pond,
goldfish playing gleefully
with waterlilies.

In five years, matchboxes of lights
will twinkle in the dark evening sky.
In ten years, the stars will hide
behind radiating city lights
amid thickening white fogs.  

The only thing that connects
me to this place will be the name
of the metro station, Rapeseed Fields,
reminding me of my childhood self
roaming and vanishing
in a vast sea of golden waves.


Today’s LittleNip:

The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.

—Maya Angelou


—Medusa, with thanks to Hongwei Bao for his fine poetry about home today, and hopes that you have some sort of safe place in your life~


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 Letters From Home