Poem of the Week | July 26, 2021

This week’s Poem of the Week is “Triptych of Southern Sea” by Aiden Heung!

Aiden Heung (He/They) is a Chinese poet born in a Tibetan Autonomous Town, currently living in Shanghai. He graduated with an MA in English Language and Literature from Tongji University, Shanghai. His words appeared in The Australian Poetry Journal, Poet Lore, Rust & Moth, Parentheses, The Brooklyn Review, Southern Humanities Review, Folio, The Carolina Quarterly, among other places. Read more about him at www.aidenheung.com. He can be found at twitter @aidenheung.


Triptych of Southern Sea


Green is the color of rain
as it falls Icarus into the sea
surface, but quieter, or
I’m, too, lost into the blue?
Strange no boats docked
at the bay, a solitary gull
circling above me, slashing
the silver line of horizon.
And the waves come shoveled
ashore, shattered among rocks
drowned in their brown.
Sitting in my patio, protected
by the roof, I cannot fathom
the heaviness of land’s broken
extensions. But from far, far away
in the gauzy fog, it gleams
like an ice-cap—the sun!


I stand alone, taunted by white teeth
of the sea, though her blue face
is tinged with gold.
It’s difficult to see fish here, all tucked
into water’s velvety brocade;
but crustaceans, the color of sand, pelt
into rocks’ tiny fingers.
Day moon hovers like an epiphany.

Almost noon. I’ll make do
with what I have— a handful
of time, though seeping
from my palms like sand
into waves that break at my toes.
Maybe I should wade further,
and taste the salt, before the sick
starlight falls, scarring the perfect surface.
But there’s always tomorrow,
I think, there’s always something
I have to leave on the shoal.


I can’t sleep; the sea shouts
November and the new moon
has broken into sequins.
This is not the coast
for the homecoming; no
lighthouse stands bulking against
the sky, and the city’s lounged
into groves of palm trees;
shadows heap at buildings,
like kelp to be collected by dawn.
But I still have time, a few more
hours at least, before losing
the dim orchard of night.

So I walk to the patio, the painful
softness surging in me;
before me the sea trembles like a secret
refusing to be told; better it remains
unattainable, for the sake of all
who will embark on a journey,
each on his heroic course,
sailors, fishermen, poets,
before day breaks
and everything reveals itself
to be less.


Author’s Note

I spent a week in the coastal city of SanYa. It was late autumn, the sea lied in my front yard with all its sensory details like an invitation to a place familiar yet I didn’t quite understand. I couldn’t swim, and the sea became even more mysterious. Standing on the beach, I yearned to start a journey somewhere, because I felt the elemental pull that taunted me— the sun, light autumn rain, day moon, the unfathomable blue, and waves that came beckoning. Then there were two worlds before me, one real and transient; one phenomenal but eternal, like an idea. The tension between these two fascinated me, because there wouldn’t be beauty if I chose one world over the other, no matter how eager I was to reach the other side. So this triptych of poems was largely written to respond to this despondence and yearning for the unreachable.