The Silent Cats of Beida Campus, Beijing
In Mid-Autumn week on Beida campus,
I saw gardeners unpack a moving flowerbed
off the back of a three-wheel cart:
red poinsettia, yellow primrose
arranged in pots on the concrete forecourt.
The week before National Day,
These movable gardens bloomed everywhere;
China’s new growth miracle: no roots!
Pots ready to be carted off.
One blue day, the American embassy meters
Say the air is safe for humans,
but to me it tastes dusty. Do you believe
the forecast or your itching throat?
Our teacher at the Chinese centre
points out: here, cats don’t yowl for mates.
The ginger toms of Beida campus
sit stolid in green tufts of grass.
Some groundskeeper collects the strays
and takes them for a vocal snip.
As I cycle past the silent cats
of Beida campus, I wonder what
they would be mewling.
I went to see great-grandma when I was six.
She was living in a house my uncle had made
from soil and straw. It held:
great-grandma, three chickens, and a goose.
Instead of a lightbulb, she sometimes had a spider
sitting on the ceiling with its eyes turned on.
When I complained of its glare,
she’d say that spiders
are cleaners of the air
and should be respected.
We ate and I left.
She asked me to see her
when I was back in China.
I said, I’ll see you soon, I promise.
In Leeds, after my seventh birthday
I was sat on the floor of our hallway,
tying my shoes for school,
when I heard great-grandma had fallen
and her house was now empty.
I didn’t grasp then that promises
could stay unfulfilled
from that frayed sort of forgetting:
the lack of a flight,
an overslept appointment
to Skype a crackling
telephone-line – –
The Woman Who Married the Mountain
Knees of the sea
kick up to the sun:
Granite peaks hold shells in their palms.
A girl picks her way through the moraine:
knots of lichened rock
on balls of her feet –
skin loses its grip, she slips
shock into the mouth of a glacial lake.
She wakes near the banks of a bubbling spring,
a long sleep upstream. Gulps in the tissue-strained air
of the high high peaks; her eyes are stunned
in the snow-glancing sun.
The long reach of the Karakorum
embraces her from all directions.
She makes her glissade down its sleek snow-skin
and finds no crevasse.
She walks back to her old village where
her friends are distraught; but look right through her
and some of the elderly nanas there
speak of a girl who fell in the lake:
She has become a woman, now, they say
She has married the mountain, and we know
The mountain carried her away.