after seeing my face dimly reflected in a tang dynasty mirror, i remembered…

of mist and the sampans and freighters©papa osmubal

of mist and the sampans and freighters©papa osmubal

after seeing my face dimly reflected in a tang dynasty mirror, i remembered…
john mateer

yesterday on the Turbo Jet across the Tejo to Macau, the blaze
of mist and the sampans and freighters and caravels
were that inhalation proceeding song, prior to even the ideal
voice, that reversed sigh by which Being becomes just a phase,
an utterance, nascent, never intended to amaze.



cobbled street, macau ©papa osmubal

cobbled street, macau ©papa osmubal


john mateer

A mouthful of bitterness, a room full of incense,
both are an opiate cloud like a beloved’s dark and floral vulva

or the savour of her quick and churning tongue
under those eyes that opened like trapdoors for my double- and my true-self.

Under this coined moon when I’m a hungry ghost,
my heart a champagne flute crushed and crushed in the fist,

I am a man of the Twenty First Century, roaming Macau,
falling up the cobbled Roman lanes, wishing for a life absolutely Oriental:

that rhino-horn of Viagra and Ecstasy and a free orgy,
yearning to cease being God’s verb–

regarding canto 9

luis de camõoes ©papa osmubal

luis de camõoes ©papa osmubal

regarding canto 9

john mateer

Impulsively I want to turn to Luís de Camões,
who is elsewhere, and ask: What’s Canto Nine?
All those lonely young women, perfumed and frisky, awaiting
the mariners returning from a world half-known?
Why a dreamy brothel like those promised in the apocryphal sastras,
full of teens with teased-out hair and spy-tv eyes,
whose virginities can be reliably renewed by a pill swallowed the morning after?
Why the advertising? I hope it’s not Tristan da Cunha,
the isle of my great-grandmother’s birth! I have stood
between Vasco da Gama’s sarcophagus and yours, National Poet,
in Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, hearing your epic recited,
and I’ve sat on a bench in your praça staring up at your gargantuan silhouette,
your arms down resisting a salute, head clamped under a bronze laurel wreath,
and I have also dreamed of visiting those padrãoes that dot the African coast,
those gravestones that marked your transportation to The East,
not wanting to question the motivations of a tragic actor.
But with Canto Nine I am again a tentative student,
confused, self-doubting, seeking the nod of The Author
as I page back and forth through the paperback,
praying that not all history must end in the purple-haze of porn.

of war and redemption

statue of a portuguese officer, macau ©papa osmubal

statue of a portuguese officer, macau ©papa osmubal

of war and redemption

john mateer

In a Bar
You fuckers kept invading my country, the Angolan says,
leaning into my face like the reflection of something dead.

I say, That’s one of the reasons I left my country…
YES, MY FRIEND: his patting me on the back

foretells a joke. The Macanese hostesses watch on.
Behind them, the mirror alive with a scintillating harbour.

in a mind

chinese bard ©papa osmubal

chinese bard ©papa osmubal

in a mind

john mateer

He didn’t describe the poem he wrote while sailing down the Mekong River
when he’d had in mind the fidelity of our epic poet whose drowned beloved

filled a sonnet with that mother absented by the Virgin’s image.
Now I’m seeing the bedraggled corpse floating face-down in a long clairvoyant mirror,

and I’m composing the poem he scribbled in sporadic recollection.
Years ago I read that sonnet and was also our poet saved from the waves by Á-Mà.

jardim de camões

tree ©papa osmubal

tree ©papa osmubal

jardim de camões

john mateer

A small Oriental mountain disguised as a park populated
by ancients playing cards or perched immobile on rocks, vests
rolled up over their pork-bellies, their wives stretching
for Tai-chi, and I, Camões, having visited your statue’s nook,
there under a false dolmen, am also one-eyed and loitering,
greedily listening to intimations of a DREAM MARKET,
to those mutterings behind the great wall of the invisible.
The Seen is the debt I collect.
I, too, am a Trustee of the Dead and the Absent.

cemiterio da ajuda

chinese cemetery ©papa osmubal

chinese cemetery ©papa osmubal

cemiterio da ajuda
john mateer

We would expect families to be living in the vaults,
so many are small stone houses with painted doors and curtained windows,
the coffins mirror-smooth and on bunks along two walls,
and there are fewer than have been abandoned
on any street in an actual city. Through one grimy window
I see a shelf like a mantelpiece with framed photos
of a woman as a child and as a teenager and then of her as a bridesmaid.
On the clean floor there’s a line of yellow teddy-bears
and in a darkened corner, encircled by fallen petals, a vase of roses.
Why am I looking in on this sadness? In another vault,
across from the grey dusty coffins, broken shelves;
and in another, a monochrome studio-portrait of the entire family
as would be hung with pride above a matriarch’s bed.
Why am I weeping again as I never do in my adopted country?
Why, as I am wandering the streets of memorial homes and cenotaphs,
hiding in the shade of Cyprus trees charred by the noon sun?
When I cross paths with the three old women bundled in their black,
they don’t murmur Bom dia. To them I am less than the dead,
not even a curator of remains, not even a ghost-writer – a tourist.
I’m sick of this. I can’t stop weeping.