Simplicity Is Not An Option: Five Hong Kong Poems by Tammy Lai-Ming Ho



4 August 2019

Doubtless some people’s reactions are dulled to night pictures of Hong Kong showing untypical street sights that have been reverse alchemied into regularity. Doubtless it is no longer surprising a district famous for its temple where citizens go to pray for good health, good grades, good marriages, harmonious families, and speedy promotion at work, should also be covered with teargas smoke as if by drifting clouds. Doubtless a people are propelled to be creative with words and images when so many of their protective gear is homemade, taken from thousands of homes.

Doubtless some pictures still tug at the heart. Doubtless even the most landlocked part of the city becomes part of the Be Water movement. Doubtless our attentive inventiveness is part of our strategy.

(See image via Initium Media)


To Thine Own Self Be True

7 August 2019

A typical night when extended family congregate to feast, except this is nothing typical. It is a repeat of 2014 when yellow umbrellas bloomed across the city. Now someone says all protesters are rioters, disrupting Hong Kong’s daily routine with bricks and kitchen implements. Now another says check your source of information. I bit my tongue so as not to cause an explosion. The ones who raised me see only one-sided news. Are we separated just by a TV channel? The streets that I walk past to get to my Sham Shui Po home are covered in smoke. It is surreally beautiful, like a music video, but incongruous to the humble shuttered shops. Sleepless nights beckon conscience. Do we turn a blind eye, or do we fight? A city of people reevaluating life, calculating what is worthwhile. I look at myself in the mirror: why the hell can’t you do more?

(Image: Sham Shui Po, Tuesday 6 August 2019.)


Simplicity Is Not An Option

9 August 2019

Even the computer keyboard
overhears the never-ending sounds

of shouting. People
teach themselves and others

how to plant traffic cones.
Goggles wear young faces—

not swimming but rising.
They walk towards me in dreams,

on a landscape
of billowing acrid smoke.

Artificial fog everywhere:
Fog in residential areas,

fog in homes for the elderly.
Lived lives confront lives lived—

We were the same, but now
speak different dialects

of gear. In schools they don’t
teach the scenario

of running away
from being gassed.

(See: ‘Protesters drag cones to block traffic on a busy road in the centre of the city’, via The Telegraph)


Laid Bare

12 August 2019

Once upon a time we were ignorant
of tear gas inside MTR stations
and in fact, of tear gas.
We marched on planned routes
and the next day, returned to work,
school, and naïvely conceived normality.
Now it is no longer possible
to feign innocence: Blood
of protesters shed on the streets,
thick and clearly witnessed.
The flaws that make our society now
are the flaws of tyrants.
Fearful but defiant trapped birds,
we are in a deadlocked situation,
but still tuned to the tone
of freedom, dreaming of breathing
free, sighting streets of regular traffic,
each others’ faces.

(See: ‘Police fire tear gas directly into Kwai Fong MTR’, via RTHK)


The Eye

12 August 2019

A crater, a window, an entrance to the soul, a lone well, an empty dish, a lamp to the body—is collectively mourned; heartbreaking and haunting. A young woman lost an eye in her beloved city, the result of certain people already having turned half blind. One eye open, one eye closed: only surveilling, seeing selective sights, scenes and sins. Hong Kong was once lost, and then found, and lost, and will be found again; a cycle of blood, sweat, and tears.


About the Author:

Tammy Ho Lai-Ming is the founding co-editor of Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, the English Editor of Voice & Verse Poetry Magazine, and an editor of the academic journals Victorian Network and Hong Kong Studies. She has edited or co-edited eight volumes of poetry, fiction and essays, including Desde Hong Kong (2014), We, Now, Here, There, Together (2017), and Twin Cities (2017). Tammy’s translations have been published in World Literature TodayChinese Literature TodayDrunken Boat and Pathlight and by the Chinese University Press. Her first poetry collection is Hula Hooping (2015) and she has books forthcoming from Delere Press, Math Paper Press, Palgrave and Springer. She is an associate professor at Hong Kong Baptist University and she serves as the President of PEN Hong Kong and a Junior Fellow of the Hong Kong Academy of the Humanities. She is a recipient of the Young Artist Award in Literary Arts, presented by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council.