Notebook Fragments No.7 (Musroom Shoup)

I was on a bus to the Great Wall
when the left lens slipped from my glasses,

saw something special only halfway,
saw a brickwork snake led atop a country.

Fixed the frames. Nick asks if my eyes sting
when it rains in this city but they don’t.

Dear, I’m sleeping with other people
but you’re the only person I brunch with,

and believe me when I write that tofu press
might be the best gift I shall ever get,

scrambled. These Chinese lessons
are just teaching me how to talk more

about myself. In the English lessons,
they’re known to miss out key words:

I would like to move (to) Singapore;
I like to cook (with) my family.

Zhang said he didn’t learn the language
just to get a job working at Starbucks,

but now suspects he learned the language
just to get a job working at Starbucks.

Back to you, the last message was a red packet,
bagels before the outbound flight.


One for the Street Sweeper outside of the Office

I tell you that it happened again today,
that I was ambushed leaving work
by a street sweeper who threw down
their twine broom and rushed forward,
shouting greetings and breaming
and wanting a photograph but mostly
just to smile and chat and point
at all the buildings they swept the streets
outside of. You listen and then say that
“ambushed” is perhaps a strong word.
It is, and you say why is it such a bad thing,
to be able to make somebody happy
just by existing in a country I was not born in.
You always ask good questions,
and it is no bad thing, and I am often selfishly
self-centred and had just stood sweating
and listening to that street sweeper
before cycling home and telling you
about her over dinner. I tell you that I find it
strange, making people happy just by the merit
of breathing and you say I make you happy
in much the same way, without even
knowing it most days. I realise then
that you are right, and such a rush comes
with the knowledge, as if it had never
quite occurred that you do the same for me,
just by being on the other side of the door
when I’m typing in the access code,
just by putting your cigarette stubs
in bins instead of dropping them
onto the street to be swept up
by the same street sweeper who put me
in her moments using that photo in which
I was forcing a smile – and why
had I been forcing a smile? You say that it
is because I do, that I cannot make myself
happy, so then how could it ever feel normal
to make other people feel happiness.
I have no response to that, just to eat, and to
think about the stray leaves in the lake and how
it is somebody’s job to row by them
and to make sure they take them away.

The Goddess in the Pool

In Xiamen, I learn to walk,
call it moving while meditating
or moving and meditating
call it really seeing
the details
in the rockwork, her eyes
as if pondering what it is to run,
the heron on her shoulder
content to stay grounded
for a little while longer.

I soak the shirt through with sweat
just by sitting in the heat,
but I am not the only one, for
summer in the south
was promised and delivered
by a vengeful god I shook hands with
outside the airport terminal,
his sister in the pool,
larger than the weather.

Shoreline Saint

I didn’t say a word today,
just walked,
hugged the shore
like the first friend I found
this side of Shanghai.

Blue waters,
nods at the clerk
at the petrol station

surviving on good manners
and a packet of beancurd,
poetry on the reverse,

that last line
beating each of these lines,
damp like coastal grass

and folded in on themselves
like crimped tofu skin,
just words
I did not say enough today,

that embrace,
a little weak, meaning there was space
between him and me and the sea.


Yonghegong Lama Temple Station
is the quietest station
in the world;
you hear your soul
stuttering like the subway.

I listened to Jack’s Mannequin
on the platform,
shuffling songs
like a bad playlist
at a party in need of kickstarting.

The blue line runs circular,
meaning you could spend a day
beneath Beijing, aimless and adrift,
lacerating locations like seven cities
seen in a fortnight began to share
sceneries.                Skyscrapers
white at the base,         I rode the loop
once and emerged to emptiness,
echoes of former bodies crowding
and rushing towards fresh air.

On exit there was a crowded Costa,
I sipped coffee while swallowing the smog.

Notebook Fragments No.6

I don’t think I’m capable
of keeping somebody happy
for a short eternity,

starts with me,

making a home of my boxer shorts
at the kitchen counter,
phone propped against
a bottle of soy sauce

starts with foreplay,

try honesty
try chastity
try Chinese dating apps
then try translation apps

for assistance,
subsequent flirtatious

seemed as natural as my limbs in the water;
everybody was Kung-Fu fighting
except me.

Cold Water

I let the water run


took it to the face
and didn’t feel any better,
like exorcising the worst
of the pain but retaining
the majority of the splinters.         Grew cold
and I stepped to solid ground
to shivers, to slivers of light
through the window, to shrunken sight
of self in the mirror,
to her hands,
and turning the dial
was adjusting the clock time
long frozen season
plane ticket
darkened at the edge and the shower
in the Shanghai hotel was frigid at best
while the radio played Christmas songs
in August and touching down
was like submerging self in the Thames
in winter.          Cold water
short lay-over,
a sink in terminal two,