By PUI YING WONG.
Evening brought distressing news.
We were walking to the station but no longer
sure of the journey.
Already there came a prelude to winter,
sound of wind like a prison guard’s
long whistle, trees shuddering.
Inside the station other passengers paced
back and forth, their eyes fixed
on the departure board. Like them
we waited until a new destination appeared.
At the gate I thought of the light
we left on in the kitchen,
the smell of baked apple and cinnamon
must still be lingering.
It struck me that the line between
before-and-after was now drawn.
Time is shadowless there
Just vigor of a fishing boat about
to take off, a gull lands on the deck,
unperturbed by the engine roar. An
art student trying to capture light
before the full sun, when the sky
still wears an oily trim, nubuck leather.
And for us on the beach among seagrasses,
dead shells, lobster husks so redden
the sand, and hands of beautiful
young men passing coffee, behind
the arc of their dogs jumping.
Sometimes I take it out
of the plastic box, surprised
at how well it held up. The color still
a cool toned vermilion with a black silk
underlay. Short collar, front clasped
Chinese style, falling to my hips.
I run my fingers over the embroidered
plum blossoms, finches stitched to a branch
and to a latticed window where a woman
is kept at her work table, needles and threads,
a motif unchanged through the years.
I was a daughter living in my parents’ house.
I wasn’t talkative. I daydreamed.
The coat has come with me house to house
and here in late Massachusetts light,
a memory pursuing me.
Do I now see the shadows beneath
the evergreen, blossoms going limp
in a quick frost and the finches,
well bred, non-migratory, singing their virgin songs
spared of lament, the ache
of lost and found.
They sing exuberantly,
they sing in captivity.
Late summer, burnt smoke arrived
from California wildfires and hung
above The Charles River.
Birds standing still in the trees
as if unsure where to land next.
The air took on the color of acid paper
where poems that once shone
receded into oblivion.
Past the canal a banner stretching
across a new office park boasts:
The Most Innovative Place On Earth.
We went home to read about the terrible
floods from Tennessee to Queens,
and an article warning us
it’s time to put together a go-bag.
PUI YING WONG is the author of two full-length books of poetry: An Emigrant’s Winter (Glass Lyre Press, 2016) and Yellow Plum Season (New York Quarterly Books, 2010)—along with two chapbooks. A new book, The Feast, is forthcoming from MadHat Press. A Pushcart Prize recipient, her poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Plume Poetry, Chicago Quarterly Review, New Letters, Zone 3 and The New York Times, among others. Born and raised in Hong Kong, she lives in Cambridge Massachusetts with her husband, the poet Tim Suermondt.