November 2020

by Tammy Lai Ming Ho


My mother’s eyes are dry but tears
sometimes find their way there.
The woman selling dead seafood keeps
wetting the lobsters with ice water

near the shore where tourists cheer and wave.
A paper kaleidoscope has limited
use but it is a birthday present, along 
with a house and a plasticine key that is too big

and a red hand-painted card. The skin
does not heal itself fully when hurt; lifeless 
flakes on the sofa, desk, everywhere black.
One copies a poem in dark sour ink,

the Chinese characters escape in rain.
An abstract ship sailing, not yet stranded,
blurry nests. It heads to the future, already,
the sky is ripening. Like a beard grown.


Please wait. We’ll be with you in a moment.
The walls grow impatient; no more
breathing through the cracks of hope. How
many are still counting? Closed curtains

day and night. Rumours say if everyone 
writes in shorthand or distorted 
script, we might be heard, understood 
as millions of distraught, distracted 

masked mouths. There’s a saltiness
in the books with titles that spell city, speech
and shock. Which part of the face
is the loneliest? We have come so far,

and not far enough. Stuffed animals 
on delayed parades, some dressed like
frogs and ducks. Three-dimensional
time has gone on. Narratives are stuck. 


I dream often of you in an unfamiliar 
shirt or half-naked, your back beaten. You
are many faces but I know none
closely: and none are returning

home in an instant. Seasons
don’t change when they are of grief
and tightened limbs that are paused.
They still invent new rules

drawn on harsh desks behind closed
doors and we use the same symbols
with conviction like the weathering 
stones and umbrella bones.

Spotless, this year, is a fantasy.
Galloping images and sounds await
simultaneous interpreters whose headsets
are in disarray. Who is listening? 

Tammy Lai-Ming Ho is a poet and translator. She is the founding co-editor of Cha, an editor of Hong Kong Studies, and the English editor of Voice & Verse Poetry Magazine. She is also an Associate Director of One City One Book Hong Kong, a Junior Fellow of the HK Academy of the Humanities, and the President of PEN Hong Kong. Her books are Hula HoopingToo Too Too TooHer Name Upon the Strand, and Neo-Victorian Cannibalism. She is an Associate Professor of literature at Hong Kong Baptist University.