When the men from the other islands
made their colonial beach-head – a throne
facing the Pacific – like Canute, but commanding
the world to step back, not the waves –
they brought strange gifts: honeyed hives, thick-muscled
snails, my friend’s dark eyes, and a city razed to ashes.
In choking heat now, cicadas hiss. I scale the shrine steps,
register quake damage and concrete circles
where a stone flower once bloomed, roots
of cloned cherry trees now gripping earth
like an old man’s desperate fingers clutching
at the remnants of lost life. A bird shrills.
The gates beckon. On a banknote of that time
a black kite flew through such poles, a reminder
of the ubiquity of both the state, and death.
By one pole, an orphaned Doric column, bottled water
slosh over hands and mouth, circumspect glance.
The inner sanctum’s gaping jaws yawn wide,
and I take the steps up in my stride, clap hands twice,
and shout over the Formosa Strait. “Wo hui lai le!”
I have come home. In the mountainside, men of my kind
in the graves the island men made them dig, might nod
approval at this reclaiming. Legs swing into the lap
of the shrine’s concrete seat, and I examine its propitiating gifts.
Three hundred Taiwan dollars; four winking silver bauhinias
and a note on wood, PRAY FOR HONG KONG; a stem
of millet that my finger brushes, as though to nudge it
into explaining its secret meaning; a handful of forlorn
and guilty sen; one omamori scuffed with pocket dirt.
Fumbling, I add my fifty pence and sit back in silence.
There was once the offering of knowledge, the window
onto the world. There was the endowment
of clean water, skilled doctors, a university,
all modern. Oil-smutted hands in the bicycle factory
gifted a rifle-mount to every downtube. Across the sea,
there was a sweating boy in a harbour of merlions
bequeathed the gift of an impossible defence.
A gift entices me to stay, creates a bond in blood.
Rainclouds descend, patter salt in my eyes
and I’ll return again, to this grey rubble
that claims the altar, engulfs the gates. Below,
the Pacific hits the Straits, and here is my beachhead.
Open my gift, furoshiki-swathed forgiveness.
Iona Bosvill is a British, West Country-based writer and heavy metal fan of Irish and Romani descent. Having roamed the South West and the Midlands of England for most of her youth, she eventually emigrated to South Korea for work, an unthinkable idea for her parents’ generation, experiencing and witnessing massive social changes there in a seaside city community. After a long weekend in Taiwan she fell in love with the tropical nation and sought a job there, becoming involved in activism and meeting a retired revolutionary, before coming back to England older and possibly wiser. Having attended Oxford on scholarships as an adult student, she is about as comfortable – or uncomfortable – in a ballgown as a band t shirt and a leather jacket.