macau, city of exiles

leal senado square, macau ©papa osmubal

leal senado square, macau ©papa osmubal

macau, city of exiles
peter bakowski

Wen stares into the bathroom mirror,
touches lightly his graying hair,
the black eye patch that covers the hollow
made by a Japanese sniper’s bullet
in the Manchurian winter of 1939.

Blood-stained tufts of grass.
Strong hands lifting him from the mud,
being strapped to the back of a horse,
how swiftly the ground moved beneath them.

The inside of a tent.
A face, a doctor in a bloody gown,
who apologized for the field hospital’s
lack of morphine.
The doctor looked down at the dirt floor,
then at Wen,
“As well as your right eye,
you lost a finger to frostbite.”

After the war
Wen worked his way south.
Cut hair near the railway station in Tianjin,
repaired bicycles in Wuhan,
sold medicinal herbs in Guangzhou,
paid to have himself smuggled into Macau
on a fishing boat.

Wen sometimes plays cards with his widow neighbour,
Mrs Cheng.

They talk about
the best place in Macau to sample eel,
their favourite Fado singers,
how strong and sweet they like their coffee.

They talk
of the past –
working in the fields alongside a parent or ox,
the first time either of them saw an aeroplane,
the proverbs a grandfather repeated.

Mrs Cheng and Wen
talk about
the Shanghai actress, Lotus Chang,
who owed five hundred masks,
her sailor lover who threw himself into the mouth
of a Javanese volcano.

The afternoon brings a cooling breeze.
Mrs Cheng offers Wen a second piece of Madeira cake.
He pats his stomach in protest, then accepts.

Both are quiet for a while,
each thinking of which card to play next.


from Beneath Our Armour

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