King of Kowloon

In your white vest and blue flip-flops,
you wandered about in the fierce sun,

a can of black paint in your hand.
We read your family history on lamp-posts:

your escape from Liantang, your ancestral home,
settling for Pink Shek in Kowloon.

You hailed Wen Tianxiang and Sun Yat-sen,
charged the Queen for usurping your land.

新中國皇‭ ‬曾榮華‭ ‬曾福彩
中英‭ ‬香港‭ ‬政府

A self-declared king for fifty years, painting
all over the colony – a city where the British

lived on mid-Levels like paradise birds
and the Chinese sweated, selling meats

in wet markets but Oh! the freedom
to march and shout, to do what you did!

Defiance on the lamp-posts,
defiance at the ferry pier.

叉燒‭ ‬飯碗‭ ‬撐住!

Your furious characters on the red pillar box
kindle in us an identity we have always known.

“King of Kowloon” © Jennifer Wong from Letters Home 回家, Nine Arches Press, 2020, with permission of the publisher. An earlier version of the poem was published in World Literature Today (Spring 2019), p. 58.

Read an interview with Jennifer Wong from this same issue.

Photo: Tai Ngai Lung

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Jennifer Wong studied English at Oxford University and has a creative writing PhD from Oxford Brookes University. She is the author of Goldfish (2013) and teaches part-time at City Lit and Oxford Brookes.