Translated by Martha Cheung
I cooked it at noon
sliced it, then stir-fried it
It was delicious, a little biter, a little sweet
carrying the good wishes you brought with you from another place
On your way back you had it for company
It must have gradually turned tender and soft beside you
How did you carry it?
Did you check it in? Or hand-carry it?
Did it look about curiously in the plane? Did it
cry because of hunger? Did it get airsick?
I said it was raining outside, you said where you were
it was sunny, you were about to set off to my city
so you thought you could bring it with you, carry it
across different climates, different customs and manners
I believed you when I set eyes on it
thanks to you I saw its colour Ė so unique
In what climate and soil did it grow and from what species?
This child from a poor family has grown into a body like jade
has an endearing character, a kind of soft gentle white
not dazzling, but glowing as if from within
I took this white bitter melon with me onto the plane
and arrived at a foreign land, stepped onto foreign soil
only at the Customs did I wonder if anyone had asked you:
Why isnít it green like most bitter melons?
As they examined its dubious passport, ready to stir up trouble
the innocent newcomer waited patiently, a heavy past on his shoulders
while it remained endearing as ever, neither bitter nor sour
but gently making allowances for those overworked disgruntled
weary-eyed grim-faced immigration officials
I took it with me and went on and on, like my words, further and
further off the mark, trying harder to be inclusive
because I didnít want to leave out any details, about how a bitter melon
tossed and turned at night, missing its mates,
gasping Ė was it torn by memories of that
familiar place under the melon-shed, by feelings some may find trivial?
Youíre so kind towards my clumsy language habits, when I asked:
When will you be back? You just said:
When will you go? One leaving, one
returning. You accepted the tenses I used
Tenses slippery and imprecise. I always eat bitter melons
I ate one before I boarded the plane
Why then did it come all that way back to my table?
Did it want to tell me the bitterness of separation? of frustration?
Did it want to let me know it had a tumour? that its face
was wrinkled with loneliness?
that it kept having bad nights, kept waking in the early hours
and with open eyes waited for the arrival of dawn? In the rippling
silence, was it telling me it was illness that made it bitter?
or its inability to make whole the fragments of history?
Or was it the bitterness of being misunderstood by strangers,
of being misplaced in a hostile world?
It still looked so translucent, like white-jade
so soothing the thought of savouring it eased oneís nerves
I was saying what everyone should say
expressing amidst lucid phrases what I wanted to say
in confused sentences. Alone I set the table
the ocean between us, how I yearned to be with you
and share with you the refreshing melon
There are so many things that do not live up to expectations
The human world has its imperfections
The bitter melon understands.
View Work in Original Language