Cyril Wong is the author of eight collections of poetry and a short story collection. His work appears in journals around the world, including Atlanta Review, Fulcrum, Poetry International, Cimarron Review, Wascana Review, Dimsum, and Asia Literary Review. They have also been featured in the 2008 WW Norton Anthology, Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia & Beyond, and Chinese Erotic Poems by Everyman’s Library. TIME magazine has written that “his work expands beyond simple sexuality…to embrace themes of love, alienation and human relationships of all kinds.”
I am on a bus full of school kids smelling of sweat
and hope. I still hope, don’t I? I get off at a stop
and my grandparents are standing beside the road.
Grandma holds a bag of fruits. Grandpa is
smiling, waiting to hold my arm. They are gone
when I look down at the phone ringing in my hand.
No one is on the other line. Two girls I used
to play with stroll past. One glances over,
tells the other, “The way he stares suggests
he has no direction.” A little boy runs on the street
as I am ready to cross. He yells my name or
a word I can no longer recognise.
I try my best to respond and he runs towards me,
his hands flying up as if caught in a breeze, circling
the air like mad birds. I catch him in my arms. He smiles
and tells me to put him down, saying, “You have to
let me go. I don’t ever want to be picked up
like that again. When I am running towards you,
turn and walk very quickly in the opposite direction.”
I put him down. He sprints off, laughing wildly.
I am already starting to miss him. I board
another bus and you are waiting in the backseat;
unlike me, your eyes seem to bear all the answers.
I sit beside you and you hold my hand, not caring
what anyone thinks. Then it is just me on the bus now,
since you and I were always one and the same.
Someone in front presses the bell, the present
calling me to rise from my seat, to step off this bus
and into a future for which I am unprepared,
where my name makes sense even when I no longer do.
I am about to have a buffet. But
when I try to get up, I am stuck
to my seat. An empty plate
in front of me grows brighter
and brighter. I could eat
the table cloth. I am so hungry
I forget I am here alone, so old
that no one outlived me. My belly
clenches like a fist but my body will
not rise to its feet. The other customers
finished eating, rising to leave.
As they squeeze past my table,
I lean back in my chair, sighing
loudly with contentment. Suddenly,
I am standing on my feet,
but I have to follow everyone out—
lunchtime is over. Those already outside,
talking among themselves beside the street,
are exclaiming about how full they are.
A fat couple smiles widely at me.
The husband tells me, “Today’s selection
was quite spectacular, wasn’t it?”
Nobody ate anything. They were sitting
before empty plates. I watch as they
hug and leave in pairs or groups.
I try to remember if I have always
lied about my hunger. With a heart-stopping
screech, a car brakes in the middle
of the road. A homeless, dirty-faced
man has collapsed in front of the vehicle,
clutching his stomach as he yells,
“Somebody help me, please! Somebody
feed me—I’m starving!” To which
none of us does nothing. Instead,
we slip back into walking fast,
barking into our phones. The driver
who stopped his car restarts his engine,
followed by the others behind him.
In an unremitting stream, they
run over the poor fool again and
again, until he may no longer make
a sound that anybody might hear
above the symphony of all that traffic.
We saw a bear, and my friend flew up a tree. I fell to the ground and played dead. Like in a dream, the bear bent down to sniff my chest, my neck, and whispered in my ear, “Trust no one who abandons you in your moment of need.” When I opened my eyes, the bear was gone, and my friend was beside me, asking what the bear had said. I drew out a gun and shot him in the head; not knowing why I did it, only that it felt good to do it. And dragged his body into the forest for god knows how long and for no particular reason. Perhaps I wanted to thank the bear for his warning. Perhaps I was searching for myself. The body was getting heavy. When I looked down upon it, I saw that I was lugging my own body behind me, while I had turned into a bear. Like in a dream, I did not seem to care. Instead I hauled my former self deeper into the woods. Hungry, I rested and chewed on it for food. Some birds passing overhead called out a word that could have been my name. When I was full, I went to sleep. When I awoke, I had no eyes left to open, for I had become part of the stillness floating like a web between the trees, catching a few leaves, that long syllable of the wind, running daylight through its delicate grasp, then letting it all go again.
Geoff Page is an Australian poet who has published eighteen collections of poetry as well as two novels, four verse novels and several other works including anthologies, translations and a biography of the jazz musician, Bernie McGann. He retired at the end of 2001 from being in charge of the English Department at Narrabundah College in the ACT, a position he had held since 1974. He has won several awards, including the ACT Poetry Award, the Grace Leven Prize, the Christopher Brennan Award, the Queensland Premier’s Prize for Poetry and the 2001 Patrick White Literary Award. Selections from his work have been translated into Chinese, German, Serbian, Slovenian and Greek. He has also read his work and talked on Australian poetry in throughout Europe as well as in India, Singapore, China, Korea, the United States and New Zealand.
A few of them he’s seen already, arriving in the early dawn, staying in a small hotel not too far from the station. He’s walked their boulevards, their backstreets, the pathways of their parks; he’s strolled beside their rivers, those enigmatic swirlings, and sometimes on the esplanades, dressed a little out of season, wondering at their moody seas. He’s probably seen more than most and yet he’s not well-travelled.
Arriving all his life as rumours, as traveller’s tales or deft allusions, they line up as a reprimand, these classics that he hasn’t seen. Now, with just these ten years left (or weeks or hours) he knows a visit’s less than likely. He thinks about the schedules, the brochures with their gloss and colour — and thus to inconveniences, the quality of coffee, the noise on the piazzas. The weather, too. Autumn would be best. Spring, for him, ironic — the heat and cold on either side needlessly extreme. Neither is what he’s had in mind. He thinks, too, of the work that made them, fierce obsessions, dreams translated into stone. Or brick. Or glass and steel more recently. He thinks about those half translations, the ones he’s used so far — the photographs, the moving pictures, the acreage of Baedekers, milky slides in living rooms forty years forgotten.
He looks down at his cup; takes some water from a glass. Sometimes the coffee’s brought too hot — though never scalded. He wouldn’t be here if it were. He lets it cool and stares a while at what a blonde barista’s made with just one flourish of a spoon. This, too, is art. How easily it’s done. He folds his hands around the cup. Time now to begin. There’ll be a few more yet, he thinks, and sees himself in ticket queues, impatient at a counter or travelling in cramped compartments. He’ll walk the cobblestones and hear the slanting of their consonants, the strangeness of their vowels. How many more? Say three or four, the ones unseen already turning into myth.
Oblivion is the word he wants. Unique to him at first. And then.