EILEEN CHONG


Eileen Chong is a Sydney poet who was born in Singapore. Her writing
has been published in journals such as Hecate, Meanjin, and Mascara
Literary Review
. She is completing a Master of Letters at Sydney
University and is working on her first collection of poetry. She lives
with her husband and two moggy cats.






Spring Rain

We are already in bed (me, half-
undressed, you, in your underwear)
when we hear the rain outside

drumming its small fists
upon the window panes, landing
insistently on the clay roofs

around us. I worry about the cat
who's still out and about. In my near-
nakedness I go to the door

and open it, calling the cat's name
into the darkness. The street
lamp's weak halo illuminates

only the rain's continuous needles. Each drop
a distinct note on glistening leaves,
swelling into a joyous symphony

gargling its way down
the gutters. There is no trill
of the cat's bell. The cat

must be crouched under car, strange
verandah, full bush, naked tree:
cold, wet, and waiting

for the rain to exhaust itself
in this late-night display
of spring's early tempers.






Bath-house Ritual

In the inner chamber of the onsen
we read the signs and dutifully scrub
at our skins. The white towel, hand-sized,
is not large enough for modesty. We talk

between nervous laughs about how hot
the water is, how much the soap
lathers up. Everything but the fact
that this is the first time

we've seen each other naked since I lost
my child's body, and you your mother's
eyes. As you turn away I cannot help
but notice the sag of your breasts

against your chest, the thickness of your hips
conjoining your flat buttocks. We've always joked
about how you never seem to fill out
the rear of your pants. I'm the one

with the childbearing hips, the impossibly
round bum. I'm the one who is still
unable to bear children. Glistening now
with steam and sweat, we pad our way

to the bath itself. First you, then I -
the water as clear as lies. We keep
our eyes lowered lest they glimpse
any more of the other.






My Hakka Grandmother

If time could unwind for you
yet be still for me: we would run
through the fields, feet unbound
and pummeling the ground towards

the earth-house. I read about it once:
its architecture unique to the Hakka people
in Fujian. Dwellings like wedding rings
stacked up and interlinked. You would lead me

through the building's single gate
and show me where you slept, above
the communal granary. It would smell
of rice husks, like your dark hair

in the mornings before we'd braid it
long and sleek. I would speak
in your tongue, but we would not need
words. The lines on my palms mirror

yours almost perfectly. I wonder where
our bloodline begins. We are guest people
without land or name, moving south and south,
wild birds seeking a place to call home.






Returning to Wang Wei

The door, densely woven from brushwood,
swings to a close. Outside the window, dusk
descends over the hills. The pine trees shed
their needles quietly as long-legged cranes
shape their nests in the boughs. My gate remains
silent, solitary. The tender bamboo has sprung
new leaves powdery to the touch. Lotuses peel off
their crimson layers, trailing them on grass. Across
the valley, fires wake: lanterns at the ford. All around
in the shadowy dark, water chestnut gatherers
retrace their way home. *

Gui: more than a return -
it's a longing for what you have always known,
a searching for what you have lost. You come
and you go. You reply, revert, regain. You seek.


* a loose and associative translation of Wang Wei's Living in the Hills,
the Chinese character 归 (gui) being the last word of the original poem.




Back to Front.