Two poems by Jennifer Lee Tsai

 

Breathing
after Song Dong

Tiananmen Square, New Year’s Eve,
sub-zero temperatures;
he lies face-down,
breathing gently for forty minutes
while from a distance, Mao observes
a few policemen on night watch
and the lamp-posts fitted with video cameras.
This is the gate of Heavenly Peace.
Soon, a patch of frost thaws,
just to freeze over again when he rises.
In the morning, by the Western edge
of the Forbidden City,
he breathes over the petrified lake
in Houhai Park. Nothing gives.
Only the trees cast their long shadows
into winter sunlight.

 

The Valley Spirit Never Dies                                                                      

The Valley Spirit never dies,
and is called Mysterious Female.

                                            Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

 

My aunt speaks in the dialect
of the Hakka tribe,
a language I do not fully understand;
Chinese gypsies, like dandelions,
they flourish in adverse soil,
refuse to be trampled on,
the women’s feet un-bound.

She rises early in the morning,
a hollow bamboo reed
filled with infinite energy;
dresses in dark, loose trousers, oriental blouse,
a black-veiled hat.
She remembers, she remembers,
lights incense, replenishes the bowls of oranges,

white chrysanthemums on the ancestral altar;
praying for our memories of the dead.
At night, she tries to tell me what she saw –
1961, living in the same village
as my grandmother, in New Territories,
who, one day, drank weed killer
by the harbour at Sha Tau Kok.

Later that day, we visit a temple
to honour the gods of literature and of war;
two banyan wishing trees in the courtyard,
their branches strewn with coloured streamers,
fluttering desires. My fires are renewed
and I feel her in my bones,
I hear her in the songs of birds.

 

(‘Breathing’ was published in The Rialto, no. 86; ‘The Valley Spirit Never Dies’ was published in Smoke, no. 62)

 

 

Jennifer Lee Tsai is a British-Chinese poet based in Liverpool. Her poems have been published in Smoke, The Rialto and are forthcoming in the Bloodaxe anthology, Ten: Poets of the New Generation in September 2017. She is a fellow of The Complete Works III. Twitter: @jenniferyuhsia