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Solace in the Face of Disaster

An excerpt from “On the Pulse of Morning”, Maya Angelou

Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.
History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced with courage,
Need not be lived again.
Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.
Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.
Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts.
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.
Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.
The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.

“Congee”

congee by Ping-kwan Leung

who lights the stove before the sun
warms my belly best
with medley of uneven heat, cool
of intimacy, strangeness –
comes in fire and steam
earthly sufferings without cease
faces smiling trip you up –
the ill-fated caught in a bitter rip
to surge just as it drags them down

after a sleepless night, who’d bring
a bowl of warmth to your bitter chest?
whose hands have skill to pick apart
the thousand knots of a heart?

it’s wearying to toast desire
why still cling to vinegar and salt?
let me peer into the empty whirl instead
and see what you’ve invested –
thousand-year eggs and lean pork
calm the fires in your heart
dried stockfish and peanuts
round off a sweet night’s writhing rice
paddling boats groan to the moon
and to the wind above the shore

only the fish eye of dawn calls for you
dried bean-curd sheet, ginkgo,
pork bones, dace paste
each distinguishes dissolves
you and I – we’re ups and downs in hot rice soup
some people talk it up with abalone and with scallop

let’s taste the everyday bitter-sweet
in the bowl of all folks’ congee

Leung Ping-kwan: Hong Kong Poet

Cheung_pb_reprint_2015.indd

Literature can alleviate nostalgia as much as foodstuff does. The late Ping-kwan Leung’s poems bring alive Hong Kong that I was more once familiar with.

In the poem Images of Hong Kong, the narrator searches for a postcard to send a friend overseas. Yet he finds mostly “Exotica for a faraway audience / Entangled with what others have said / Why is it so hard to tell our own stories?”

Leung told Hong Kong’s own story through homely images of food, buildings, traffic, fish and much else, in poems with names like Papaya or In an Old Colonial Building. He spoke of how a city functions, of what is lost as it develops so rapidly. Of the human spirit that wanders, looking for its home, while finding welcome overseas. P.K. was both profoundly local and international; he was as likely to be reading something by a Czech writer as a Chinese poet. He studied in San Diego and traveled widely, liking Berlin especially. There, in the strange tale of East-West division and unification, he found echoes of Hong Kong’s own fractured identity and tumultuous political changes.

In Bittermelon, he compared the ugliness of the vegetable’s “lined face” with time: “Wait until this moody weather is over / That’s all that matters… / The loudest song’s not necessarily passionate / the bitterest pain stays in the heart. … / In these shaken times, who more than you holds / In the wind, our bittermelon, steadily facing / Worlds of confused bees and butterflies and a garden gone wild.”