the poet camilo pessanha sleeps curled up on a macau bed

portuguese colonial emblem at a park in macau ©papa osmubal

portuguese colonial emblem at a park in macau ©papa osmubal

the poet camilo pessanha sleeps curled up on a macau bed

leung ping-kwan

                       translated by brian holton  1998

this is your world
stinking red hangings, enclosing
the iron bed on the Persian rug, the coloured blankets
enwrapping you who sleep curled up in layer upon layer
of the exotic scents of joss-sticks and opium
faithful pekinese crawling close to you
licking your beard
your knees below your chin
as though you were mumbling new words
only the parrot repeats what you have said
you have abandoned all the houses on the other shore
and come here far across the oceans
roamed all the earth to find a bed
no matter what turbid river flows outside
or where in the world its confluence
bishops and viceroys constantly changing
your eternity is a bead-roll of roses
tear upon tear wept by an unlucky mother
you said farewell to every treasure in your past home
navigating between these Chinese relics in the mirror
your destination never reached, the scroll’s flowers unwithered too
you leaned on the weathered blue and white porcelain
the Bodhisattva wound with spider webs
escaped the original order and drifted here
forever at rest, a fossil life
the peeling mirror reflects a bed of old blankets
folded into desires, carrying curses
to put someone forever into deep sleep
in this warm, narrow, humid cave
your woman of the East lit your opium pipe
you slept into a womb, you are a pupa
sunk in sleep you saw the demon that overflies reality
oh sleep, sleep well
things in dreams are more real
in those dreams you own
the whole world

(October 1998)



leal senado square, macau ©papa osmubal

leal senado square, macau ©papa osmubal


leung ping-kwan

                        translated by brian holton

The city is always the colour of neon
Secret messages hidden there
The pity is only you’re wearing a mask
No way to know if it’s you that`s speaking
Fruit from many different places
Each with its own tale to tell
In newly dressed shop windows
“Che” rhymes with the latest in shoes
In your little cafes I bump into
Friends I haven’t seen in years
Between pickles and green tea porridge
A cup of tea has drunk away a lifetime
Have you any spare change then?
There are plenty of gods on sale in the market
She cherishes the memory of her last life`s rouge
He likes the celadon green of city dust
So sing me a song then
On the winding midnight street
Yesterday and us, we’ve come face to face
But however we try, we can never recall today

in front of the ma ju temple

honoring the ancestors ©papa osmubal

honoring the ancestors ©papa osmubal

in front of the ma ju temple

leung ping kwan

                  translated by brian holton 

the temple is closed
even Ma Ju has time to rest
we’ll just have to sit by the sea
and run our own maritime matters

drinking, we face the rolling grey waves
on the bottle gold characters celebrate Macau’s return to China
today’s weather is unsettled: cloudy or clear
when dusk comes it’s a little stifling
the beer is cold enough
but can’t slake our thirst

why are the distant hills split in half?
those plants drifting on the water
can they be leaves in self-banishment?
when, through layered clouds,
will break bright starlight?

June 1999

a tapestry, given by the king of portugal to the emperor of china

statue of a portuguese hero in macau ©papa osmubal

statue of a portuguese hero in macau ©papa osmubal

a tapestry, given by the king of portugal to the emperor of china

leung ping kwan

                         translated by brian holton

from the Paço da Ribeira
to the Yonghe Palace from the mighty Don João V
was sent a messenger bearing other gifts
to be given to the Yongzheng Emperor

and a lofty diplomatic mission
to return a favour between the nations
to commemorate the Yongzheng Emperor’s accession
to ease the severity of recent diplomatic policy
to guarantee the safety and the profits of the Portuguese in Macau

it boarded to the exalted sound of trumpets
crossed an endless roaring ocean
red silk backing criss-crossed with gold and silver threads
weaving out heroic deeds of officers of state
to be presented by one palace to another
each a residence protecting a Son of Heaven, from one mighty monarch
to another, on the admiring eye imprinting
heroic achievements, daily affirming eternal glory

everyone knows
in nine pieces
packed in two wooden chests
the tapestry
was stuck in the bottom of the ship’s hold
and first had to wait for the [proper] wind direction
before it could set out on its voyage
then in Rio, in Brazil
it suffered a hard winter
waited till the weather turned warm
then sailed out for Batavia
stayed a month
waiting for provisions
meanwhile Don João V, King of Portugal
ate legs of lamb
drank wine
arrested commoners
erected magnificent buildings
celebrated his birthdays
dispatched armadas
went ashore on all kinds of islands
and gave orders for the weaving of tapestries
waiting for the recording of these things
and at this stage of waiting
the Yongzheng Emperor
also did things
he had people put to death
had people put in prison
carried out a Literary Inquisition
and the people he disliked
he had them dug up from their graves
to make them to die again
he sent armies everywhere on punitive expeditions
and killed a good many people
while he was waiting
he did things like that
what was he waiting for?
no-one knows
but maybe it included
the far-voyaging
narrative of immortal events
the heroic tapestry?

the heroic tapestry
as it was sailing toward him on its long voyage
was it as if it had crossed eternity?
no, it was merely that
a voyage of one year and two months
was nothing
except the sun rising and setting
the weather changing
except for life
and moths
in the wet and the emptiness
coming every day to eat
mouthful by mouthful
for breakfast
afternoon tea
at midnight
bit by bit
enjoying it
so there was nothing
left for
His Majesty

(September 1998)

george chinnery painting the fisherwoman of Macau



wall, and what is behind it? ©papa osmubal

wall, and what is behind it? ©papa osmubal

george chinnery painting the fisherwoman of Macau 

leung ping kwan

                                             translated by brian holton

Sniffing at a snuff bottle, laughing out loud again and again
Strange, this ugliest of men has the biggest of appetites
he can shove everything into his mouth and chew upon them
and still his hungry stomach remains empty: cups and plates from breakfast
a cathedral completed and then burnt down, leaving just a façade
upper class Britons who gossip about one another, and even
their ludicrous scarves? He chewed on the vanity of a foreign land
the long robes, loose sleeves, bygone prosperity buttoned with trivialities
Sitting in a circle on the balcony, those merchants grown rich from opium
are his close friends, and he a regular guest at their dining tables,
but perhaps he’d like to quietly remove his collar
stiff, like an ex-wife ugly fierce and impossible to break away from
debtors from India, or court cases that drag on forever, it makes him
yearn to forget the over-elaborate age-old European attire

to rest his eyes on the natural grace in the fishing boat? Perhaps he knows too
there is no forgetting the gulf spanning the swaying vessels
But driven by an inner hunger, he would willingly abandon his
table manners, yet the local spices prove too much for his foreign constitution
strong as his stomach is, the radiant beauty draped in crimson
belongs to the other shore forever unreachable, eliciting glances from afar
yearnings, its shimmering reflections on the waves easily make one drown
On the embankment where heavenly feet so lithely tread, does he dare venture?
It’s clear a war will break out– flashing swords, dark smoke, perils
perilous0– still he loathes to keep warm behind the walls and sigh
He still wants to go up and down the streets and alleyways, to forget
his background, his upbringing, and live anew the lives of others
and from the hearty laughters, the gentle embrace of sea breeze
to paint afresh the story of his life and fate

August 1998


Brian Holton (born 11 July 1949) is the translator of Chinese “Misty” poet Yang Lian. He translates into English and Scots, and is the only currently-publishing Chinese-Scots translator in the world.

Holton was born in Galashiels, Selkirkshire, Scotland, but spent his early years from 1949-1955 in Lagos, Nigeria.

Holton was educated in Scotland, at Larbert High School and Galashiels Academy, studying for Highers in Latin, Greek, French and English. He gained an MA 1st class Hons. (summa cum laude) in Chinese Studies from the University of Edinburgh in 1975, after which he carried out postgraduate research at Durham University from 1976-8.

this biography is an excerpt from Wikipedia