Thunderstorm Warning

It was the coldest winter I remember in Hong Kong.
I wrapped myself Canadian in shawls, sweaters, scarves
for the journey into work on the train. Huddled into
the warmth of strangers who also got seats
at the end of the line.
Few mainland tourists got off at the stop for Disneyland
or lined up for their ration – two tins of milk powder a trip –
at the Wellcome supermarket.
In February the north wind was still sharpening its knife
on the granite of Lantau Peak.
A man on a motorcycle sped up
to slit open the skin of a journalist;
exposed his backbone.
The attacker was caught on the mainland
but no one knows who paid his fee.
Winter left slowly.
These days when I board the train
it is crowded with suitcases –
rènao  热闹  –
with “hot and noisy” conversations
rolling with the Rs of Beijing Erhua
whenever the train tilts into a turn.
I seldom find a seat facing the sea
where I love to float my gaze,
surf the mother-of-pearl lip
as each wave sips the surface.
If I can sit, it is facing the mountain.
On sunny days the slopes are green
and warm as jade
but clouds circle the peak – grey dogs
looking for a place to lie down.
It is raining by the time I get to work
so I do not walk through the garden
with the waterfall,
do not hear the morning frogs.
I can see the sign: Thunderstorm Warning
as I approach the glass doors of the university.
It is near the end of May.
On the weekend an artist fell on campus.
In his lecture he mentioned Tiananmen –
as massacre, not incident.
Lee Wen woke bloody on toilet floor tiles
unsure what brought him down – a punch,                                                                  
or the shaking disease slowly
stealing his balance.
Hong Kong papers reported this
in Chinese and English.
Standing at the podium Lee invoked the name
of Beijing soldier-artist Chen Guang –
who spills memories from the square onto canvas
using the blue of shadows.  In his paintings
the Chinese flag lies torn among the wounded –
smoulders with the brightest red.
It is almost June
and no gallery on the mainland
will hang Chen Guang’s paintings.
He chain smokes in a cell
at Tongzhou Detention Center.
It is June now.
The sign for the thunderstorm warning
is always there when I come to work.
On weekends, when it is dry enough to hike,
I go into the Feng Shui woods.
I always take a stick to help me
at overflowing rivers, and to fend off strays:
so many at the crossroads of the old villages,
waiting for their masters to come home.

Kevin Lau, the former editor of the Ming Pao newspaper, was attacked in late February 2014. According to BBC.com, Ming Pao has been known for its criticism of the local government. A pro-Beijing editor replaced Lau just before the chopping attack against him.

Lee Wen is a Singaporean artist famous for his “Yellow Man” performance art. He came to Hong Kong in May 2014 to lecture about art and to accompany his work to the Art Basel show at the Hong Kong Exhibition Centre.

Erhua - Beijing dialect


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