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The slow putter of motorbikes coughing
Exhaust mingling with prayer-smoke
Rubbing red-rimmed eyes
Am I awake? With the taste of last night’s sleep
Or still half-dreaming, of
The rattling of red plastic cups
The crumbling of ghost-dollars
Into ashes, blackened and paling?

Crimson candles burn
Flame-tips taper to the wind
The morning air is cooling.

We climb into cars
Headlights gutting the dark
Onto main street to join the procession
No honks but steady inches forward.

The temple coils with smoke.
A parade, a veneration
I fumble for my basket:
Yellow, with chicken and pork,
Orange, apples, flour-cakes,
And a shiver. We walk
Into the crowd
Sounds of devotion fill my ears
Eyes stinging (from smoke? or grief?)
I bow my head
Joss in hand, to plunge in ash
Muttering words to a half-hearted prayer.

And again the car
Our bodies packed like matchsticks,
Sharing air gone stale.

Now clamber
Onto paths, mud-slick
Smeared with the tracks of past climbers
Trampling wild-grass and crunching leaves
A breath, heaved out
And a glance skywards
At grey clouds; rumbling rain
As we lay down offerings;
Slash tea and wine across crimson cups.

I do not believe in ghosts
Only wind and a crackling fire
(And a voice telling me I am not alone)

Ghost-dollars spill from the embers
Of a burning box, fenced in joss
I see faces closed in prayer
I put my hands together and mouth the words
I do not believe, but then
I do not know what draws us here.

Is this piety, candle piety?
Or a lamentation:
That we have not yet found rest
That we have not gone to our slumber
That the world is here and they are gone
And left us bereft, to live our autumn lives.



Marcus Chan daydreams, writes, and is probably too fond of a good turn of phrase. Even odds are that he’ll wander through his twenties with a book in one hand and a pencil in the other, happily scribbling away.
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28 Nov 2022

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Translated by: Emily Jin
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