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About this poet

Scholar and poet Agnes Lam is the author of three poetry collections, A Pond in the Sky: Selected and New Poems (Association of Stories in Macao, 2013), Water Wood Pure Splendour (Asia 2000, 2001), and Woman to Woman and Other Poems (Asia 2000, 1997), as well as the chapbook Poppies by the Motorway (Chinese University Press, 2018). She is also the author of Becoming Poets: The Asian English Experience (Peter Lang, 2014). In 2008, Lam was named an honorary fellow in writing by the University of Iowa, and in 2009, she received a Commendation from the Home Affairs Bureau, Hong Kong SAR Government, for her achievements in the arts. A retired professor from the University of Hong Kong, Lam serves as vice president of Macau PEN.

This City I Come From

 

translated by Natascha Bruce

 

1. Two Worlds

this city I come from
when I come here
its deep recesses
wield twilight like a knife
slicing the world in two
the world begins with a slot machine
but its end is nowhere to be found
within the world
someone detonates the night
knocks at the gates of ruin
a flash of fortune
and the night is purgatory hot
in the city's heart
people and fire are as one
“Save me! Oh, save me!”
the flash bulbs no longer neutral no longer recording no longer capturing
“Save me! Oh, save me!”
chroniclers become victims
history can be like that
unclear whom to blame

beyond this world
unclear who belongs where
we remember only
after-dinner drinks
nighttime
within the world
chatting at a harbor-view bar
perfume fancy clothes hair spray and English-Chinese-Portuguese
mixing like makeup melted on a face
hard spirits at Opiarium
vodkas at Casablanca
ice cubes leaching color then spilling over with it
wave after wave of neon
faces mixed up like melted makeup
cologne-scented men raising glasses
to toast the slow procession of headlights
merry christmas and a happy new year
welcome back, happy reunion
happy twenty-first century
happy happy
down this drink and we're happy
amid the happy sounds
people sing raucously in Kun Iam’s bay
urinate beneath her lotus dais, a drunken stream
toss glasses in the water, an arc of laughter
at the harbor-view bar, our laughter drowns the song
atop her lotus dais
beautiful as a mermaid
out of place as concessions and colonies
history can be like that
while gods can switch their faces
we remain the same
 

2. The Last Night of Hotel Bela Vista
this city I come from
when I come here
at its high points
in an old sea-view building
Westerners are reminiscing
Chinese are disputing with foreigners
reunification or handover
we raise half-glasses of red wine
to mourn Bela Vista
thinking of a hundred-year-old hotel
on this new page of history
kept chaste as a young maiden
for a single representative of a single country
the jazz musician can't help but
play a sad postcolonial tune
waiters in starched white uniforms
approach the walkway’s pale-yellow pillars
to water oleanders redder than wine
the blossoms count lamp shadows
that come with the falling mist
misty recesses
obscure the lanterns at the end of the walkway
and high above
a white ceiling fan sheds no color
still as days not yet begun
there is no today, no tomorrow
no need to weep or say good-bye
but the days will start with this sad farewell song
before the tune is over
secret lovers drain their cups
dry, red-eyed glances saying
let’s keep hold of this night
let’s linger beneath the oleanders
like a clichéd war romance
history can be like that
a constant cycle of invasion and retreat
thinking of tomorrow
they return to the long table
forget that intoxicating floral scent
and with the red-jacketed musician in the background
sit as wooden as colonial ladies
among the glint of glasses
a silver knife traces scar after scar
men and women are careful, gracious
meat juices on snow-white porcelain are
slick, crimson
we clink glasses
drink up the scenery we cannot fall in love with
 

3. That’s how it goes
this city I come from
when I come here
across its wide expanses
the century says good-bye
to the insatiable desire of flash bulbs and zoom lenses
for shot after shot of wiped-away tears
gone then here again, here again then gone
the lone eye of the lighthouse must stay silent
he long since saw through
all this it's nothing but
the money-making game of the chroniclers and chronicled
when the lone eye blinks once again
beneath the flash bulbs and the zoom lenses
the Chinese Westerners Macanese will be as one
no disputes
chroniclers and chronicled as one
reunification, yes, reunification 
across the wide expanses
within the century
night mists whip darkness across the sky
the glimmer in the lone eye dims like God's glory
it can only rally, never meet
where the black mists settle
the night is as heavy as history
weighing on my eyes
it aches, how it aches
and I'm sleepy
thinking of before the mists
of the flash bulbs and zoom lenses
and the city they sought
but we
the chroniclers and the chronicled
in a flash, a few fleeting moments
forget that era
forget that city's name
to forget, oh, to forget
the chroniclers and the chronicled

this city I come from
has no name
that’s how it goes
neither do I
that’s how it goes 

Originally published in the August 2018 issue of Words Without Borders. Copyright © Agnes Lam. Used with permission of the author. Translation © 2018 by Natascha Bruce. All rights reserved.

Originally published in the August 2018 issue of Words Without Borders. Copyright © Agnes Lam. Used with permission of the author. Translation © 2018 by Natascha Bruce. All rights reserved.

Agnes Lam

Scholar and poet Agnes Lam is the author of three poetry collections, A Pond in the Sky: Selected and New Poems (Association of Stories in Macao, 2013), Water Wood Pure Splendour (Asia 2000, 2001), and Woman to Woman and Other Poems (Asia 2000, 1997), as well as the chapbook Poppies by the Motorway (Chinese University Press, 2018).