By night, Chinatown is a forlorn nexus of stumbling humanity.
Transient shades in motion, empty or full of pretense
all are made to wait under awnings
for the passing rain
that slants through street lamps
and beads the hanging wires
to become strings of light
tying together a kind of deranged continuity.
All streets lead back here for me,
caught in its vortex ,
Chinatown’s story a complex scent
of piss, jasmine and sandlewood insense.
Layered between 4 blocks in the deception of memory,
lest we forget the plague and the fire that swept through,
the dispossessed perched on rooftops
watching the blaze erase all they had accumulated
from field to storefront,
a shifting wind took everything.
Tongues of flame from the past relapse
in the shadowplay as neons go on and off again.
Illuminated windows arabesque what’s behind
a vision, a suggestion,
somewhere subterranean in the imagination,
plush chambers red and tassled,
host unseen scenarios in the candlelight.
There’s no moon to feed through pinched alleys,
so we’ll leave the darkness there to hold course
like a muddy river down the gutter
for the losers and winners in hidden gambling parlors.
The lion dancers come out on New Years
to bless thresholds and eat red qing envelopes,
stamping spirit in smoke,
chasing away any evil Chinatown would invoke.
In a steaming kitchen after the drum beat dims,
gather in the cacophonous din of conversation.
If drunk on an internal dialogue, you can empty it
in the rattle of tea cups looking to be filled again.
Amidst these distractions, euphoria
in this gloriously chaotic quarter,
you can start all over.
Chinatown, a microcosm, degraded yet venerated,
full of deals, cheap thrills,
maneuvering through the streets again,
like a paper dragon
ushering in the next layer of its regeneration.
photo by Brent Wong
Gee Yung International Lion Dance Association