Hong Kong: One Month Before Losing Its Freedom

“The contemplation of things as they are without error, confusion, substitution, or imposture is in itself a nobler thing than a whole harvest of inventions.” – Francis Bacon, 1605. (Dorothea Lange pinned a printout of these words on her darkroom door in 1933.) This is Hong Kong just before the protests, before people gathered in the streets to protest curtailment of their human rights. Faces in the street show regret, innocence, aggravation, anger, fitness, anonymity, acceptance, contemplation, joy, isolation — as if everyone were pausing with deep glances with the knowledge the life they lead might end soon, ennobling an idea they no longer take for granted, i.e., their own freedom.

Hands preceded minds by a hundred thousand generations. I sip a fruit smoothie. I lie in bed in a room. I see, with closed eyes, a red liquid washing over my optic nerve. It’s a dull bright spot. Sheets of blood bathing cells, blood like thin dark backwash on a broad beach to my heartbeats. Crude machine. This is how I work, a tide line flooding day and night.

Then came the downturn and eventually, everyone was happier with less. Hairspray blew home so I’m back accepting myself as the only compromise, though last night my stomach and legs were sewn to the side of a Starbucks.

Friends, famous as transitional artists, send me media representing transitions into an age without “things,” though I am isolated by patience and declining expertise and waste from an unnamed anxiety. In the end, I’m left with the darned things in the yard. I started them with a yellow rope. I check to see if can leave myself and be rescued after rushing out unprepared. With nothing left on the schedule I eke out a little bit of the story as against being the busiest guy in the world. My cozy little art is invaded by furtive stubble. It’s like this to be me.

This blend of bits of observation with fatally perfect fine art comes home to roost. I impress no one by sharing this towel. Sleeping, I cry for no more stages of adjustment. With deeds to do, I remember another and another. I spilled coffee on today’s mail, patted the mail with tissues like a wounded animal. Poor mail!

There’s something you should know about and others shouldn’t. You’ve given randomness decoration and soothed the river with your gentle swim. You never even suspected it was Grace Jones you were working with all this time. The shriven march to regular beats announcing agony in wordplay as if five people cared.

I never recall what I’m supposed to be doing. What I’m doing now must be what I was meant to do like hunting for moments nearly missed like a phone call without voicemail and with an unfamiliar callback number. I touch my buttons. I hear the air. I straighten my spine and wonder that all my friends still live except these who died young. Misery is crowded.

Gravity shouldn’t have “grave” in it. Too dark. Think of lightning. Lightning doesn’t need heaven. Plenty good without. We left the theater and wrestled with the eyes of strangers and social change then home to dog, cat, and art, kids sleeping over elsewhere. Saw poetics all through town like Cupid’s red arrows at stoplights saying go now against traffic. I’m shrinking as I pull my wedding tux over my bones, comfortably, and surprise my wife in bed early one Saturday.

Drivers went wild when the gridlock eased, loose with speed. Argumentative easels pushed for four legs while a canvas canvassed for support to become glass. A beaker, dried of snowmelt, was used through summer for pencils and markers with missing caps.

San Francisco to Hong Kong. Asleep in the small seat. Grapevine. That means we’re here. We’re in a small place you know well, built over and bought by sunny faces. Its streets reject me while I see heaps of essence too beautiful to leave behind as I fall up the back stairs to my celestial garret with a breeze. We get nowhere, fear no place, careless to put perfection in our day, unless we feel the whole world, like running with our pleasure, just alive through dark years with flower light.

My observation: we look at the big picture too often. It’s smaller than you.

New movie stars move to our neighborhood so their kids can know sidewalks though they live behind gates. Tear them down and release their spirits! Here, the soothing heartbeat of trees cures my life in seconds. Park sounds, music, dogs, swallows, and a laugh as if a wish came true that living is this, at table in a home with wife and child, in full ideal light, but I caught on to the game playing me since boyhood. I readied for drought as I strode through loose clouds. I saw my weeks on a screen with no escape. Thank goodness for time-shifting computers. We can finally do busywork while traveling.

That berg of air out the train window flies south with all my cares. Its crosswind you don’t hear until you’re in the next track. Relinquishment, a forgotten verb. Choose one: remembers, reminds; reprieves; restores. R is for red. Roar past emotions like shredded paper that doesn’t cling. No wake wallowing. Wait a few days and you’ll have forgotten.

The Clarks were all clerks. A resenter keyed my car and now I have to do more errands and no one answers the telephone at the body shop. We’re an internet tribe in hibernation this summer, avoiding interruptions even as we’ve sold our availability. Nobody can watch a movie all the way through because texting is more entertaining. Luckily podcasters bring us in contact with people and opinions and personalities. I read more, encounter more words I never knew. Herm. You look it up. Hint, it’s a tapering thing like our time, our lives, the stack of knowledge we share with others. See first line above. Just learned this about our neighbors.

The long trees dined on sunlight and the trail slowly wound home.  Los Alamos glinted in the distant evening summer sun while the merry forest closed like a fashion show and the air borrowed a phrase from winter cooling with news that the world is real here. The high mountains behind looked toward death. One’s body felt light and every glanced-at object made one think of possibility not disease.  It was like being welcomed to enter a Native American’s holy land, one’s access to the forest raised a notch, as if one welcomed oneself to one’s own autobiography begun when the mind was healthy and sure of its legacy. You stepped with a tree on each arm, each tree tipped with the silver-green of new growth, onto the ramp of the fashion show. Death had not yet come. Los Alamos glistened beautifully in the distant evening summer sun.

The cars sped by at eighty where the surfers entered the water, paddling out between cars. No driving home on this day. Another wave swamped Route 1. I cut over dunes to find a road’s end leading Upcountry through the bungalows and was blocked by backyards. Cutting through sensitive plants, I shot south to the first bluff where things were worse. The fog came in through washed up trees where a village had floated out to suicide. I crawled under trunks and branches and saw two men pushing boats into the water to save themselves as the waves rose and blocked the way home south. I crawled back through a deeper thicket and saw a magazine picture of a man next to the mouth of a small tiger shark, dead on the sand. It looked like the shark ate the man. I climbed to safe ground and watched my car turn over and over in the surf below. I’d never seen that, cars whizzing past surfers paddling in crosswalks, and bathing cars.


Lawrence Bridges is best known for work in the film and literary world. His poetry has appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry, and The Tampa Review. He has published three volumes of poetry: Horses on Drums, Flip Days, and Brownwood. As a filmmaker, he created a series of literary documentaries for the NEA’s “Big Read” initiative, which include profiles of Ray Bradbury, Amy Tan, Tobias Wolff, and Cynthia Ozick.

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