Four Poems by Ian Chung



one boy and three girls frozen
in a photograph
that leaves uncaptured the warmth
of something never confessed


their hushed promises
echoed within this chamber
till the dawn of day
heralded the postman with
new letters from old lovers


the muted cadence
of a recited prayer
to the stone-deaf gods
making manifest without
the empty fervour within



after Thom Gunn

When we wake in the night
With the sheets tangled round
Our legs, we switch the light
On/off without a sound,
Just checking to make sure
Who lies beside us here.

Love grows by exploring
The boundaries of trust:
So we practise letting
Each other go, to lust
After other people,
Courting cautious trouble.

Yet we still find ourselves
Returning to this bed,
This table, these bookshelves,
To words best left unsaid.
Two people can pretend
They want a happy end.

In time to come, we may
Look back at these moments
And wish we could unsay
Our heartfelt sentiments,
When love is not enough
To hold loneliness off.


Boarding Passes

As you pace back and forth
in front of the displays,
I want to tell you things
will not get any worse,
that we will still make it.
Except I am not sure
what I would mean by that.
Am I thinking about
our flight to Paris or
just being literal?
So I remain silent
and watch you frown and frame
your face with frustration,
as you try to explain
to sympathetic staff
that yes, we need to be
on this flight. Suddenly,
you turn to look at me
but speaking to the staff,
‘…our anniversary,’
and for just three heartbeats,
I love you completely.
I want to tell you this
because it is something
I am certain about,
so unreservedly,
but you spoil the moment
by coming over here
and grasping my cold hands,
‘At least we’re together.
It’d be awful alone.
Now it’s an adventure.
We’ll make it through this mess,
you’ll see.’ All I can do
is look you in the eye
and smile vaguely, bite back
that part of me that longs
to scream at your naïve
assumptions or wilful
blindness, but never does.
Someone is calling out
our names now, releasing
us to our respective
trajectories. Come now,
this is a short-haul flight.



Lunchtime and the city
releases us, gasping
for unrecycled air
but lungs filling with smog,
today’s egg sandwiches
already gone soggy,
while the plaza is packed
by slim cut suits and ties.

Traffic swerves and screeches,
the acrid tang of rubber
fighting with the perfume
of women racing off:
secretaries who kiss
their middle managers
in musty hotel rooms,
smelling of alcohol.

So please will you calm down
because as you can see
through my office windows,
down there far beneath us,
the city carries on,
its interlocking gears
still grinding tirelessly
despite our nakedness.