blackmail press 21
Harry Ricketts
New Zealand

crossed cultures - special issue
Harry Ricketts has published eight collections of poems, most recently Your Secret Life (2005). He was brought up in the UK, Malaysia and Hong Kong and taught in Hong Kong in the 1970s. He lives in Wellington, where he teaches English and creative non-fiction at Victoria University of Wellington. He is currently writing a composite biography of a dozen WWI poets called Strange Meetings.
from Your Secret Life (2005)

Hong Kong blues

1 Kai Tak

Even supposing the characters
really mean ‘fragrant harbour’
your senses retranslate them now

as nose catches a scent more lingeringly
corrupt than rotten fish, tongue
turns lizard over lips, earth

and air boom and hum, and eye
retires from glittering stir
to red and green neon minnows

that flicker in the night waters
while the heat searches your body
as slickly as a custom’s officer.

2 Jack’s friends

I went to see this friend of mine;
who read my palm, said, “You’re fine.
You’re going to live until you’re ninety-nine”;
I said, “Thanks, now tell me the good news.”
She said, “Well, you’ll get married, of course,
and put the cart before the horse.
I think I see a long divorce.”
I said, “Thanks, now tell me the bad news.”

I went to see another friend,
who said, “I’m really on the mend.
I made it right around the bend;
you see I’m the new Messiah.”
I said, “Jesus, that sounds nice.
What’s it like in paradise?”
He said, “Well, you see, you only live twice,
and you can be Jeremiah.”

I thought I’d go see one friend more.
I found him sitting and staring at the floor.
When I left, he was looking for the door
– another fall guy looking for a rise.
So I went out and I ran into a nun.
I watched a policeman polishing his gun.
If it be not now, it will come,
and it’s half-past tomorrow again.

3 Crazy Agnes’ Letter

Dear Friend (said Crazy Agnes
in her letter) we are just like
brother and sisters. Last time

I see you I wear a hat and pink
jumpet. Do you like pink colours.
You had bad cancer on your face.

I see it when you make the gas.
There are too many people
in Hong Kong has cancers.

On Bonham Road near H.K.P.
there is a tree produce
pink fruit, it is good

washing the skin of cancers.
Inside the fruit it is white with juice.

4 Repulse Bay Hotel, Hong Kong

Soon, they say, this elegant facade
will exist only in photos: for some,

a shard of post-imperial tristesse;
for others, more colonial scar-tissue.

But here this morning on the quiet verandah,
breakfast in ruins about you, looking

out through ropes of rain, falling
on the steps, the beach, the empty bay,

you find yourself shuddering suddenly
to think of all those, gwai-lo and Chinese,

who have sat, like you, watching
distant flame-trees scarlet out of green.

Featured Artist Fiona Holding