Two Poems

Small dishes of food in bamboo bowls on a dim sum cart
PHOTO: Alice Cheung

Dim Sum Cart

Dim sum house in Mongkok, the crowded, traditional
one with gleaming walls, red flowery carpet,
you squeeze through waiters and eaters, tables and chandeliers
to your seat. I am a three-month-old dim sum cart
coming from the kitchen, tailored in European steel, pieces 
carefully cut, bent, welded together, and four wheels smooth enough
for my pusher to travel at ease, even running over a fallen chopstick
or pork bone. You peep through my glass doors into desserts,
fried dumplings, fading memories that release your saliva
but there are secrets inside – petroleum gas and a stove head
to keep the food steaming, and a space for spices, sauces,
utensils that make me a walking minikitchen. A luminary in the house,
a vehicle embracing human touch and bringing dialogues, as in
What is the brownish soup you are stirring on the cart?
Good stuff with jujube – newly mixed. Wanna try?

My job, hectic as the day, a stark schizophrenia.
This round I carry salty dishes – lion’s head, shrimp dumpling,
tofu skin roll deep-fried to golden yellow, each in piles
of ten to twelve bamboo steamers. Next you see
different kinds of steamed buns in snow white, and a giant bamboo basket
containing Cantonese sponge cake, along with a whiff
of warm butter and coconut milk. During lunch hour my pusher shouts
ho yip fan, yet the happy children are already waiting for
sweets – egg tarts and sesame balls, waiting for the scent of vanilla
and corn oil freshly delivered from the oven. A clamour bursts out
each time they discover a brand-new dish on a familiar cart
that returns like a revolving merry-go-round, even for one moment
all dim sum carts in the house turn into wooden horses, galloping giraffes, flying tigers
and although you may have failed to notice any of this, the appetite
of Hongkongers is driven by a symphony of nostalgic tastes.


Silk Stocking Milk Tea 

Neither trick nor acrobatics – 
a string of movements they call 
fast, brutal, accurate
No trace of a ladies’ sock, no herbs, 
no bird’s nest, no powder 
of pearls but they love it. 

Kitchen in a dai pai dong, 
a steel urn held high, I pour 
the hot, brown tea into another urn 
at a force like waterfall 
that expels the grassy smell 
of tea leaves, pull the stream 

of liquid above head height 
for the tea to ferment into fragrance – 
repeat with the unfailing strength 
of my arm and waist through years 
of painful practice. The matrix 
of techniques, lifelong experiences 

my father handed down to me 
has transformed to a chain of reflexes, 
as how a cloth colander is sewn  
to filter out tea residue 
once thought to be a silk stocking – 
or the blend of different teas 

just right to make a gleaming colour, 
a resonant taste and smoothness. 
But before that the tea has to be brewed 
and crushed onto milk like East 
meeting West, foamed with sugar, 
flavour of the colonial past.  

Here’s your milk tea. And if 
I could tell them something more: here am I – 
for the passing on of a heart.

Arthur Leung holds an MFA in creative writing (with distinction) from the University of Hong Kong. A winner of the Edwin Morgan International Poetry Competition, his poems have been published in print magazines, anthologies, and online journals.