Two Poems

Lamma Island Tofu-fa

On the broken trail to Mot tat
a field of white ginger lilies 
flags us down.
We shrug off our packs.
Huddled among ruins to our left,
a stone house
red clay roof sloping,
doorway gaping 
like an old man sleeping.
A wriggly-tin shed
shades wooden tubs of tofu.
We sit at a plank table.
A tiny woman 
with a toothless smile,
trembling, blue-veined hands,
carries a tray. Tofu-fa
is heaped like soft snow
in turquoise plastic bowls.
I love the tofu’s smooth surface
but crave the sight of golden sugar
pocking its face, 
tofu puddled in ginger syrup – 
its sharp scent, 
clearing my nostrils
with the first spoonful.
Dusk creeps under our table
grey as the old woman’s dog.
The old woman dozes
on her low stool beside the shed,
bathed in the milk of the moon. 


On My Way to Cantonese Class

I pass under century-old banyans
on Nathan Road, their scaly bark 
studded with ferns,
trunks leaning against iron frames.
I weave among shoppers
ducking air-conditioner rain.
M’ ho yi si – Excuse me
I mutter as an old lady,
with grey bun, elbows past. 
I am on my way to Cantonese class.
After twenty years in Hong Kong
Garbage has become laap sap
for me. The fermenting fusion
of durian, chow fan, and chicken wings 
smells the same in any language.
Yet I long to uncover more layers
of Hong Kong’s midden heap.

In Cantonese class I ask 
too many questions.
The teacher is kind,
but I stall the lesson.
The blond Brit next to me
taps his foot in irritation.
M’ ho lam gam doh
Don’t think too much 
the teacher writes 
on the whiteboard in 
both languages,
stares directly at me.

Memorize the measure words 
with each noun. Test next week!

Sweat beads on my upper lip.
Will I pass? I often get them wrong.
Such hard work as my memory gapes
like a sinkhole in an old district,
exposing tree roots, shards of 
blue and white porcelain.
What a time to learn that Cantonese 
is not a romance language.

After class, I wait at the red light.
A gangly young girl in a pink tutu,
pink tights, matching trainers on wheels, 
flashing hazard lights
on her heels, pushes past me
to cross.
M’ ho yi si – Excuse me
she says. So polite!
Siu sum, I call –
Be careful!
She pauses at the traffic island,
takes my advice
without glancing at my face
to see who warns her.

Kate Rogers’s poem “Baba Yaga’s Child” won second place in the 2018 Big Pond Rumors Contest (Canada). Her work was shortlisted for the 2017 Montreal International Poetry Prize and is forthcoming in Algebra of Owls (UK). Her poems have appeared in the Guardian.