Thursday, April 28, 2016

NaPoWriMo 2016: Day 27 - Chance Encounters

Today's prompt was something I do on a regular basis - write things with damn long lines - but I wanted to do something a little different as well. A chance encounter in the subway gave me the chance to try just that.

#27: Chance Encounters
Prompt: Write a poem with long lines

I would know the sound of the erhu anywhere
even in my dreams:
a warm, grown-up flute, a muted melancholy
pervading each bowed note
the voice of Autumn, a mature queen letting fall
the leaves of her summer raiment.

He sits near the escalators at the entrance to the subway
white-haired, dignified, slightly shabby
in his blue gingham shirt and worn navy pants
erhu case open, a few dollar notes scattered within.

I stop to listen and his face transforms into radiance
as he asks me a question and I answer in his mother tongue.

I am from Beijing, he says, smiling, and plays a snatch of song
which I've heard, but don't know the name of.

Where are you from, he asks, and when I say Malaysia, he laughs
and says, So that's why you don't know some of the old songs
from China.

I ask what he used to do in Beijing and he says that
he was a teacher .
He tells me that he has only been in America for two years
and that he lives with his youngest son
now that he and his wife are divorced.
He has been playing the erhu for over forty years
and it is something he loves.
The instrument is a little battered like its owner but
it is well used, well cared for, and obviously precious.

I'm still not used to it here, he admits with a smile.
Americans, they don't appreciate the old songs
from China; they prefer tunes they recognise.

He plays Amazing Grace, and Old Lang Syne and in his hands
the erhu sings with a depth that tells a lifetime
in a few notes, music shaped from experience
rendered with delicacy and love.

I tell him that I have to go, that I love listening to him play
and he takes my hand and kisses it as if I were a queen
and says, thank you for talking to me
it does my heart good to hear my own tongue again
from someone else.

As I go towards the platform, the strains of Old Lang Syne
follow me until I step into the train and the doors close.
Too late I realise I should have taken his picture
but in my mind this is how I remember him -
a dignified, stooped Chinese emperor in shabby clothes
bowing life, love, and loss from a worn erhu
in the subway entrance of 34 St-Hudson Yards.

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