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Writing Despite Inarticulateness

“They did everything to keep us asleep,” says Tammy Ho Lai-Ming, writer and Chairperson of PEN Hong Kong, in one of her poems. Ever present in her poetry is the worry she feels for the future of Hong Kong and the responsibility that lies on the shoulders of her generation. In three melancholy poems tinged with elegant dark humour she depicts a Hong Kong that has become a stranger to her.

Credits Text: Tammy Ho Lai-Ming June 13 2019

Pearls of wisdom

How do you know a watermelon
is ready? You slap it and hear
its echoing sound.

Whoever comes to this city,
helps forge it into its current being,
can claim it and have their say.

How quickly one forgets
he who was apologetic deserves
no love from you.

An old newspaper tells
new stories every
other decade.

Tyrants will not all die.
But a people, sometimes,
may actually pay attention.

Potential last words: A selection

Half a pint of love. Have I been trying hard? The clouds today seem so beautiful. What is wrong with my toes? The incessant cries of the devil. You really dislike potatoes? The silent letters mustn’t be omitted. Can I chase after the paper planes? My children are not learning. Are you sorry now? Everything is so far out. Is the city getting better? You are all whispering. What will you do with the heat? Don’t put me in an urn. Should I have regrets? That night, the river was very still. Will you tell my mother I hid it in her closet, the old one? Rosebud. Is this real life or fantasy? Please finish my translation. Why are you staring at my face? I have to make it secretly obvious. Is it already June? I am not ready to go. Who wrote that poem about raging? I saw blood everywhere but they said it was thick dirty water. Can you remain hopeful? Put down your fucking phone. The job is not done yet? I have no enemies. Do you hear the people sing? My life is finally mine, mine. He is still exiled? Open the blinds and look out. Am I indeed mortal? They did everything to keep us asleep. Promise me you won’t lie to me again. I only have one son and he’s stillborn. What are they calling China? Be not afraid. They still tell that false narrative? I am in love with another man. Are there squares within squares and circles? I have no last words.

Writing despite inarticulateness

Not because of censorship. I fear
no knock on the door before dawn,
nor the expressions of concern
from friends. But rather the sleep-deprived
nights of thinking what to do,
what can my generation do,
and the next, and the next.

The trees that were planted
will not die unless wilfully uprooted.
The songs sung by birds of freedom
continue to exist, in some form,
in this universe. But the time taken
from those wrongly imprisoned
murders something in all of us.

Can we stop and think,
and not only about shoes, sushi,
electronic cigarettes. Drinks,
artisanal or otherwise. Think:
what this city means today,
and how in less than thirty years
it may be no more. No more.

Tammy Ho Lai-Ming is the guest editor of this issue. She is a writer, translator, and editor. She is also a lecturer at the Hong Kong Baptist University where she teaches creative writing, poetry, and modern drama. Since March 2019 she has been the Chairperson of PEN Hong Kong.

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