Chang Liu lives in Toronto where he works as a translator and forest conservationist. His parents immigrated to Canada from China and France at a time when to be of dual ethnicity was to be only half of this, half of that. During his 20s and 30s, he travelled and studied in Thailand, became fluent in Thai and immersed himself in a culture where sensuality and spirituality blur in a way that can rattle the Western mind. To his dual ethnicity he now adds a third, which often finds expression in his poems. To be of mixed ancestry is to discover, sooner than most, that identity is expansive and not always dictated by place of birth.
Chang Liu’s poetry has most recently appeared in two anthologies: Sky Island Journal (Spring 2018) and TOK Book 5 (Diaspora Dialogues & Zephyr Press, 2010).
the rain is scolding the world again
drums the point over and over
into our shed roof—
before its relentless argument
the fall leaves droop.
in the grey vastness of a noah noon
a new sea rises just outside my bedroom window
there’s the neighbour’s dog
washed up wide-eyed under our shed steaming mop
a bit more rust
on your used lincoln
a touch less red
on the ageless wheelbarrow
still piled high with your
hush, the rain is
scolding the world again I told you so I told you so I told you so
not unlike your anger,
only, less thunder more water
and remembering to forgive
all the wet things outside
even your axe
like the end of suffering it rains twice, three times a day
or all night
our lane floods noodle carts scatter trees glow
the old teak houses below my building lean closer to oblivion
and the Bodhi trees’ leaves wait and wait for a new Buddha
to sit under their shelter.
all I can do is burrow back into my bed that smells
of my Khmer lover and me
and turn all my heavy-lidded energy
back to his tamarind skin
why go out?
this is the rainy season.
it’s day-long naps
kissing between bites of sweet sticky rice and tea
listening to him lilt Thai oldies from when
he was new to Bangkok and young and hungry
it’s loving, again and again, the roar of the rain drowning out our labours
and pretending we’re safe
under one of those rickety bamboo shelters upcountry, stranded
in the flooded rice paddies of your home village
where they wait for you
my treat, and tonight we’ll feast.
what is tomorrow? there is no tomorrow. only
more moisture—stay! this is the rainy season
the great annual amnesty sweeping
across this sprawling guilt, the city
this is the rainy season when
twice, three times a day
or all night
we surrender our dryness
and remember our past lives as fish
when as soon as
you step out of doors
rain washes you like a mother
The force of water
he rushes in late
from the Skytrain to see me off
frayed from his night of tossing
as always he was too polite: his beery neighbours
camped out on his floor roared til dawn oblivious
to our mingled salts our sea foam still clinging
to his threadbare sheets and walls
and now he is just small, brown, taut not the sea god I drowned in,
wanting very much to cry but holding back like a man
policing himself in the bright stupid
light of Departures. He holds my hand,
desperately restrained gracious and Thai to the end,
magnificent in quiet defeat tough of bone soft of heart
yielding, always yielding awn-awn even his language is
like water parting around the rocks I throw in his path.
the Dean & Deluca meant as my fancy foreign treat is too bitter
for his sweet crooked teeth, the huge muffin too alien a crash-landed UFO
so he smiles over his cup and drinks me in,
his two wet stones staring hard soft, hoping maybe
to tug me back in with the ecstatic force
of water clasping itself again on the other side
of an obstacle. I am removing the last
one—in 10 minutes I am leaving,
up into the dry air.
his waters tug hard
at my feet.
I refuse to wash your feet
Soiled though they are,
ripe with toil,
denied grass, love and other soft things,
troubled as they seem,
rife with the constant rumours of the land
and aching to be kneaded by truth
still—I will not
to wash your feet.
I will do no such base thing.
Yours deserve a more
of the tongue, lips, tip
of the nose—
water that arises from within me,
costs me something.
their patina of modesty,
wide and confident
to trample and conquer. To their rough rebuke
I would lose
Fragrant with the oil
of struggle, reeking of their lifelong
argument with dust,
could be a master’s
and only wait
to rest gently firmly
on a nose
a neck, a lover
who dared leave.
State of grace
The perfect seat
on the early reua—
sun barely risen still cool, still sohm
we slice through Mae Naam Chao Praya
water drops flying, lohm
on my face.
Must be the heat.
Thai words from yesterday’s lesson set ambushes
and lap at the throne of my samaati.
This morning the khon-khap is unshaven,
carelessly confident, still wrapped in his dreams, but
all of his movements precise—
he’s in that state of grace
of all people here who push, pull, lift, drive.
His biceps and forearms love the sunrise
and they are Thailand itself—the palangjit of numberless
rippling through him as the waves of our passage rise and fall on the river of kings.
I know, judging by his arms, that under his gahng-gaeng
his calves and thighs are river-smooth tamarind on stone
a living map of the kingdom.
Did I not tell the ticket collector where I was headed?
My stop has come and gone, like a life.
I’ll stay on this ferry all morning or until they kick me off
just to watch him pilot the universe, and feel him
ride me over the choppy surface
of a depthless, nameless calm
just to feel the lohm
on my face and let all my dry English words—what was it?