Second Prize Winner of the 2017-18 Writing Contest

Charlotte Ring, Class of 2019, wrote her poem while participating in the Spring 2018 Hong Kong: Colonizations program. She explains, “This piece was inspired by a PSA I saw displayed in many places around Hong Kong encouraging people to spread their ashes in the ocean. It was a very striking image, and has provided an access point for me to ruminate on what it means to live in a city like Hong Kong, which is simultaneously very dense and also home to incredible natural beauty. The accompanying photos demonstrate this dichotomy.”


The train strobes by my waiting feet,
poised on the arrows before the doors.
The noise of the train is a stern sigh, laden
with the throngs of passengers within it.
From this subterraneous vantage, I glimpse a blue sky:
paper and rectangular; an advertisement.
My foreign eyes gravitate, as they always do
to the English below the Chinese:
“Join the boundless
                                and be free.”

The ocean stretches out from this billboard,
an old man, a boat, a sense of finality.
Of course this is the place where the subway
is lined with encouragements of how to spend your life after death:
here, in particular, the chance to
join the boundless
is the chance to be spread in the ocean, a trillion cremated parts.
Because this is the place where people puddle
on the hillsides,
piling up in high rises,
every day is a new skyline.

Nan Lian Garden, Hong KongThis is the place where the streets are crossed by millions of feet,
surging forward, and I
caught up in a tide, am taken to new corners
to wind down paths
bounded by towers with rooms diced up by a sharpened knife,
but through every window, the green mountains roll on forever.

join the boundless
                                 and be free

The dead have the best views here, similarly sardined on the slopes,
the cemeteries give way to vast ocean vistas—
but they are full,
because all the people that live here
grow old here, become the elderly who
walk with their hands clasped behind their stooping backs,
who stop at every market stall,
who are always on the promenade after dark,
who slow the pace.

This is the place that deposits red and gilded
altars stacked with lemons and tangerines,
tucked deftly into the buildings,
Buddhas where tiles once were.
still praying for the fishermen to return safely
because 香港 is the name we know this island by
fragrant harbor, where I can know a fisherman from his boots
and smell a temple from the incense.

This is the place where the wild hills sing a wind-song
and the trails are echoes of mistakes, we find them in the morning-tide
warm, humming and silent
with glimpses of the city on the horizon,
almost imagined, in the haze
almost unreal,
I teeter to the edges of the world:
to fall toward the ephemeral metropolis
                to join the boundless
                                to be free.

Aberdeen Cemetery, Hong Kong

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Hong Kong: Colonizations.
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Campus in Hong Kong.