Leung Ping-kwan 梁秉鈞 was a prominent Hong Kong poet and essayist, better known in his home city as Yah-see 也斯, Yesi in Mandarin. To most of his friends he was simply ‘P.K.’, an abbreviation for pak-gai 撲街 in Cantonese, literally ‘hit the street’, or ‘fuck off’.
These are two of a number of poems written by P.K. in 1999, inspired by a reading of the classic early eighteenth-century collection Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio by Pu Songling.
For years I had been urging P.K. to re-read these stories, as I was convinced that he would find them to his taste, more ‘magically real’ than much of the South American fiction he had been so close to all his life.
— John Minford
Are you a fair maiden wandering alone
Or a foul ghoul clad in human skin?
I love the way you use your coloured brush to create your form.
Is it the sheer painted beauty of your face that enchants me? I’ll never know.
Sometimes I seem to detect the tiniest flaws in you but then they vanish.
Perhaps enchantment refuses to see into the cracks in things.
I pity you in your bitter solitude, I hold you in my arms, warm you till you wake.
You smile, raising your brows, your eyes glisten, as if you are calling from afar.
When you leave, I still seem to see you
Changing into a host of apparitions, things I’d rather not see.
When you return, you’re a different woman.
Are you the woman I love? Am I the man you love?
Your gentle hands soothe the pain in my chest.
Or are you just hungry and want to eat my heart?
You say you love me. Now that my chest has been cut open and emptied
you’ll cross a myriad mountains and rivers to get it all back.
From another’s throat, vilest phlegm, transformed pain,
Through love becomes a new hot throbbing heart.
Or do you just want another pretty painted face?
Do you want to wander forever betwixt light and shade?
With the pain of this incision, will we understand each other better?
Please forgive my confusion for asking such foolish questions about love.
The Girl in Green
I’m reading in the temple.
I dip my brush in the ink to write,
And seem to hear a lilting voice.
You call to me from outside the window,
All dressed in green, in your long skirt.
A cool clean breeze comes fluttering to my side.
You’re not afraid to spoil your pretty embroidered shoes,
You just want to keep me company.
Your little feet alight gently on the bed,
You sing a new song,
Your voice soft as drifting silk,
Sweet and meandering,
Tugging at my ears, moving my heart,
Sidling up against me. But why
These restless doubts, these lingering fears?
Why do you feel
That a heart moved must surely bring misfortune?
I follow you out of the door,
Watch you turn into the cloister,
Leaving behind you a calm breeze.
Will I ever see you again?
Then suddenly I hear
A heart-rending cry:
I run to find
A green hornet trapped
In a huge spider’s web.
I bring you back to my desk,
Unravel the web,
Watch you come back to life again,
Between pen and ink,
Watch you clamber into the hollow of my ink-stone,
Haul yourself down into the ink,
Crawl back out, dragging your fragile body
Across the white page,
To write me a single word,
Then spread your wings.
And fly away.