Honesty: August poems

And that’s all you have
To say after all this time,
You said as you managed
To pack everything you own
Into suitcases and polyester bags,
Ones that I had never
Seen you buy, nor knew
That you owned

And I nodded and stayed silent
Dumb to most of the world,
I seem to recall that there was
The sound of distant traffic
Of heavy, turning machinery
Out there, working the road
But I can never be sure
If this is something
That I’ve added later on,

A detail, stolen from someplace else,
Plucked from another time
That I have no right to impose
Upon you

I could never be honest with you
And here still I can’t,
Each poem bastardises
The memory of you

Sure there’s a poem by the end
But there’s a little less
In the world that’s honest
And true and uniquely you

Always in writing these words
I’m stealing from you,
Please forgive me for this
But I’m not sure that I
Could stop now, even if I tired

And I could say the first time,
The only time that I remember
Us dancing, was on that morning
When you managed to compact
Your life into polyester bags,
When you folded your clothes
So neatly, so full of care

But this could be just another
Affectation, as insincere
As everything I’ve said
So far,

Chicken, Bread and Wine

We didn’t bother to clean the table
Not wanting to disturb the waiters
Who were on their own break too,
Standing outside, most of them smoking
Talking to one another under the shade
Of the old castle walls

We brought up food from the kitchen
Along with a few bottles of wine
That had been left unfinished,
One of which contained small islands of cork
Floating in it, like dulled constellations

There was bread and roast chicken
A bowl of salad leaves tossed with olive oil,
And we sat by the side of the balcony windows
In our dirty whites, our hands bloody
Always permanently stained

There was all the usual pain in familiar places,
Our backs hurt, our feet were sore
But for that moment we were contented
Out there, sitting on seats
That were soft and forgiving,
In the glow of the late afternoon
We sat with the best of them
Ate our meal and drank our wine

And nobody talked about the evening’s work
Nobody worried about all there was
That was still left to do
We existed for moment, as those free
From the suffering of ordinary life


In that house
We lived under
The hounds of nature

We smoked and drank,
Were cruel and unkind
As we contemplated the paths
The first steps of which
We never had the talent to take

Though we had the glory
The falseness of it all,
And for a time you made it out there
As people came and realised
Your gift

I wonder, these days
If it still keeps you strong
Or are you just as alone
As the rest of us
Seem to have become

We Learn

Back then we lived
In a community called
The Second Interior Village
To the west of Beijing

And the buildings were old,
The walls wet with age
And with sound

We lived on the sixth floor
With a family below,
Who would lock their kid
Outside for hours on end

He would scream
I’m sorry
I’m sorry
Again and again

One day it all got to be too much,
I’m going down there I said
While you advised me
Not to get involved

You were usually right,
Yet I still went down there
All the same

Though when I got out the door
Down the steps to the fifth floor,
They had just let him
Back in at that precise moment

Those bastards, I thought
They knew, they knew all right
The perfect timing to let

All of their ugliness,
Their cruelty endure


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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