the world’s balance, held in a bowl of lotus root soup, on the seventh day Confucius comes back to life in flip flops: pinched toes, strapped soles, memorabilia of great grandmas 三寸金蓮1 — gilded feet wrapped in make-belief, made to believe the path from ⨯ to ∞ is elastic and stroking the 25th paragon of filial piety: a herbal store cat free to roam around but never really strays far away. along clearwater bay we meander where sand tiptoes into sea, flip flops like gills, coddled in salt to imitate the brine-dipped sun and remind ourselves the real reason we’re good with numbers is because we see the bars wedged between Flip Flop Filial Follicle 髮膚 父母2 Freedom Family for what they are: polynomials set in plastic to outlive alluvials and landfills and last through reincarnations, the same way our almost-parallel lives converge and form webbed toes, a phantom ache like rubber bands snapping our foot into porcelain bowls, stinging deeper, the farther we sway past the rim.
Variations on Forbidden Words
I. Gunshots used to be scarier and less scary when you thought they only belonged in crime scenes and police- triad films. Imagine Spiderman hanging off IFC, or Godzilla spying on your 100 sq-ft apartment's full glory. Hell, what if dragons roamed over our LegCo instead (though bathing in flames sure is preferable to 23 years of simmering - only the chosen generation gets to be barbecued like Christ, smile through the sacrifice)? Kindle our fury, keep us bubbling in a wok of absurdity for too long and nothing will astonish us anymore. Keep us at the edge of our seat. But don't tip us over. Not with some of us huddling in a church, helmets tossed into bushes, while on our phone screens another boy's face drains of colour as he rolls back, gun pushed into his chest. Not with strangers still trying to fill the bullet hole with koala biscuits, patch up our guilt with congealed chocolate and crumbs. Gunshots on TV and applause around the Dim Sum restaurant; Granny yells ‘Cockroach!’ as a sea of black parts for an ambulance on screen. My ears still ring from the chants, shattering soundproof glass that kept me standing apart for so long. Imagine the shock of gunshots, sound off, not a subtitle in sight. II. 5 2 0 1 3 1 43 , or alternatively I don’t believe in marriage but promise to love you till the end of time. Or, I pray for pride and light to return to us. Remember when we hiked up Lion Rock mountain to upend the trails, just before night fell last year? Count the steps it took to build a new path that guides us home: two million - Our identity, interwoven into fishball stalls, the linings of our masks, our weeknight runs. We used to fill the streets with words, haunt the walls with multi-coloured wishes, whispered into an empty post-it note. We learnt to go back to our roots - seek meaning in geometry, in 傘4 which began with just another person protecting as many people as their arms can reach - before symbols too became subversive. 5 2 0 1 3 1 4, or alternatively, if I stick around till all that’s left is tear-gassed silence, would you stay, too?
- ‘Three-inch golden lotus’ – a traditional phrase referring to bound feet.
- ‘Hair and skin; mother and father’ – taken from ‘身體髮膚，受之父母’ (Every bit of our body, including hair and skin, are given to us by our mother and father, and thus by wounding ourselves we inflict harm on our parents) which is one of the most well-known teachings in Confucius’ Classics of Filial Piety.
- The numbers, which share the same Cantonese tones as Hong Kong’s protest anthem ‘Glory to Hong Kong’, have been adopted by Hongkongers as a code to evade political censorship after the enactment of the ‘National Security Law’ on 1 July 2020. The numbers are also widely-used as a homophone of 我愛你一生一世 in Cantonese, translated to ‘I love you forever’.
- 傘 (saan) – umbrella; a Chinese logogram which resembles multiple 人(humans) standing under a bigger 人.
Jocelyn Li’s poetry has appeared in Glass, Oxford Poetry, PEN Hong Kong and Voice & Verse Poetry Magazine among others, and is forthcoming in Diagram. She lives in Hong Kong with her pet lizard and frog.