After Pablo Neruda, Sonnet XXVII
(from Cien sonetos de amor)
I do not love you as if you were the rasp of heat on my shoulder blades,
or the endless cicada song in the night.
The hush of humidity is as strong as a hand over my mouth
I would lick the salt from.
I do not heed the call of your secrets, as if from a distant city
with its lure of neon and sweat.
The loneliness of 2am stalks me, dark doorways with rusted postboxes,
whose sentinels are worn men with bony limbs.
I do not find hope from small altars on cracked pillars, ash dusting gilt letters.
The burning spirals of incense do not carry
the whisper of my prayer between us.
Fire everywhere, wicks flare on oil and wax.
I do not visit my ancestors' bones to hear the chanting
of monks kneeling together on the marble floor,
or to see the temple snake dazed by smoke make prophecies,
lowering its double eyelid and tasting the air.
I do not love you as if you were a mosaic of dragons
or those filial tales on florid tiles.
Distant hills call me to dusty steps of duty,
winding around the tall spire.
English is my Second Language?
restless meanings, rocking the cradle.
a lullaby of pictographs.
Dancing with the seagulls in my first
Encyclopaedia of Birds,
white wings, black tipped, flashing in the blue sky,
white dress, baby feet, flashing in that blue heat –
flight and dreaming yoked together
as the many-names-of-things.
the ladder to my escape;
the way out, the other world –
I wrestled for it, asked for blessing;
Exile is an English name.
In banishment, a faint music still follows me:
a bamboo scaffold, wobbly but strong,
to build new rhythms in a journey – not home.
I go to China, place of my ancestors;
I clamber around and wind its golden dragons round my thumbs.
Master its ways, gallop the horses of the steppes –
on a high plateau, dance with Generals drunken and fat,
in gold braid and red caps.
I dream in tongues varied and few;
in none, come the power of commonality –
lonely fragments like us,
seeking to be held close.
First language follows me like instinct
or a beautiful abstract;
entirely open in meaning –
a stricken mute maiden at my heels.
I’ve learned to jump through the hoops now;
I am my other tongue,
whether right or sinister –
bound like a confident wave to the sea.
I feel the power and the draw of it;
the sensual limning is a
careful adornment of bare bones –
talisman and relic
for dissecting the myth:
making it new.
The Fox Fairy
Appearances are deceiving.
How do you know I’m not
one of those women
You know the kind –
ones who take husbands –
then slip out at night
to run in the fields;
dew wet and odorous
after the passion,
to hunt for mice.
How do you know I don’t
relish the crunch of small bones,
the death snap,
the warmth of raw meat?
They’ve always said
Fox Women have long black hair
and never look in the mirror.
How do you know I mightn’t
have a fox mate in some mountain lair?
His instinct cannot tell him
I am fey.
His is the innocent way
of courting this tawny piece.
A moon maiden dancing in the dew.
A woman with secrets.