Chin Li

 

 

 

A long-distance voice     

That was the last time he called me
by my name. His voice low, rather hoarse.
Here and there, he paused; his speech
slow, affecting a sadness I wasn’t to know.
Long-distance call. Not unexpected. The usual.
When will you come and visit? (I’d no plan to go.)
Where you are ― is it not cold?

The voice, hesitant, disembodied, but I could
see his wrinkled face before my eyes.
I was all ears, straining over thousands of miles
of under-ocean fibre-optic lines, as if he was just
sitting across from me, chatting awhile. A voice
so familiar; a voice that told me what to cook and
how to cook it; a voice that talked about cousins
I didn’t know, whose name my mind couldn’t hold;
a voice of being old.

The next time I saw him, he didn’t see me.
His eyes moved, but his mind couldn’t;
his body was there, but he wasn’t;
he still made noises, but no voice.
I sat beside his bed, holding his hand, trying
to keep him in my mind, trying to bargain with time.

The last time he called me by my name, his voice was
low and slow ― nothing much said, nothing significant.
That was the last time he called me, long-distance.

 

 

Chin Li, brought up in Hong Kong but now living in Scotland, has published work in Confluence, Glasgow Review of Books, Gnommero, Gutter, Ink Sweat & Tears, Litro and MAP, and has turned some writings into audio/performance pieces.

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