New Poems from a Beijing Winter




There is a fish that is dying
Right there on my table,
Its mouth makes a sound
Like the faintest intent

If you had wings, you say
I’d cut them for you,
And when I ask why you explained
They’d be a burden

You sing in the bathroom
Like a burnt radio I remark,
You’re charcoal, damaged
And static and soot

I’ll not sing anymore
You decide to reply,
Then the fish I say will die
So you reach for the knife
And cut off its head

But it doesn’t come clean
So you hack at its spine

Oh I love you I say
And there’s laughter.


Be brutal I say
As you paint by the window,
Don’t use the light, work against it

You’ve a boxer’s right claw
You point with a brush,
Mauled by the wall, I don’t think
That you can ever embrace me

See the dock as an island
And we’re out here alone,
Make the sky more violent
Don’t ever be kind

There’re black holes in your teeth
You turn with the brush,
I’d like to paint you
In a blistering yellow

I open my mouth
Like a gate to cellar,
And you dive right in
To choke me in amber

I love you
I gargle, and gag
On the word,
But the sound
Is impossible
To decipher.


When I was a smoker
I rolled dark strands of tobacco
Together like lyrics in a song

I cupped them in palms
Of clear, bright paper
And kissed them tenderly closed

Back then I could ignite
My butane lighter
With a click of a finger,
Sending it twirling into the stratosphere
A metallic acrobat

It wasn’t quite Dean
Or Bogart, or Albert Camus
But I felt it added something
To the man that as I boy
I emulated and still wanted
To become

Like all ex-addicts, I begin
With timelines, dates and facts,
It’s been four years since my last cigarette
And since those days of crunching nubs out
Onto concrete grass, my life has moved to Beijing

And where I once blew smoke out
Into the world
Not it’s blowing all of it
Right back.


We stayed for a week
In a Hungarian room
With Budapest behind turquoise glass,

On a sofa we slept
Whose treads had come loose
Frayed only at the most intimate corners,

We kissed and shared accents
And drunk poorly to make it last,
Soaked our stories in bottled sangria
That we bought from a storefront
Held up on a table made from
An old fiberglass bath

On the last night before
Our tickets came due
You turned to me and said plainly
I’ve cheated with everyone
That I’ve ever slept with,
So I know in the end, I’ll do it to you

So we kissed and shared accents
Our teeth purple and liquorice black,
And in the morning we left out belongings
Boarded our separate trains and then
Left all of it at that.


Today as I walked
Through Beijing to work,
I watched everyone pass me by

I watched how they walked
How they moved on the earth
Against traffic,pollution and cinder

I saw men swayed by guts,
Their arms short and protruding,
Curved upwards with phones
Into aching, unbendable Ls

Mothers hauling children who couldn’t maintain
Passed by grandmothers led by their dogs,
Whose muzzles explored and dug through with awe
The brown and dead leaves of autumn

Boys with Chapin duck strides
Rode past communist veterans
Whose every step accounted for
Struggle and hardship and time

And what of me, of mine?
What could you tell if you happened to see?
Would you know that my knees buckle
With pain every step?

Would you see how I
Exhaust myself?

That I am tired
That I don’t sleep
Could you see in my stride,
In how I pass you by?

Could you tell that I’ve become
Nothing now that she’s gone,
And that my shoes have no longer
Any stories desiring to tell,

Did you pass me by?

Author: jameskramerblog

James Kramer is a fiction writer currently based in Beijing. His writing has appeared in Your Impossible Voice, as well as various Poetry anthologies. He currently writes a monthly-ish column for LeftLion magazine on China.

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