This poem received the Nosside International Poetry Prize (Special Mention) in 2008.
Nosside prize web site: http://www.nosside.com
When I was a child,
I used to gaze at the stars above
our garden of roses, jasmine and lingzhi by the sea,
wondering how far away they really were,
whether they were shining still at the source
by the time their light reached me …
I was told that everyone was born with a star
which glowed or dimmed with the fortunes of each.
I also heard people destined to be close
were at first fragments of the same star
and from birth went searching for each other.
Such parting, seeking, reuniting might take
three lifetimes with centuries in between.
I had thought all these were but myths …
Now decades later, I read about the life of stars,
how their cores burn for ten billion years,
how towards the end, just before oblivion,
they atomize into nebulae of fragile brilliance –
ultra violet, infra red, luminous white, neon green or blue,
astronomical butterflies of gaseous light
afloat in a last waltz choreographed by relativity,
scattering their heated ashes into the void of the universe …
Some of this cosmic dust falls onto our little earth
carrying hydrocarbon compounds, organic matter
able to mutate into plant and animal life,
a spectrum of elemental fragrances …
Perhaps on the dust emanating from one ancient star
were borne the first molecules of a pandan leaf,
a sprig of mint or basil, a vanilla pod, a vine tomato,
a morning frangipani, an evening rose, a lily of the night …
Perhaps our parents or grandparents or ancestors further back
strolling through a garden or a field had breathed in the scents
effusing from some of these plants born of the same star
and passed them on as DNA in the genes of which we were made …
Could that be why, on our early encounters, we already sensed
in each other a whiff of something familiar, why when we are near,
there is in the air some spark which seems to have always been there,
prompting us to connect our pasts, share our stories even as they evolve …
… till the day when we too burn away into dust
and the aromas of our essence dissipate
into the same kaleidoscope of ether light
to be drawn into solar space by astral winds …
… perhaps to make vanilla in a star to be
before the next lifetime of three?
Agnes S. L. Lam completed her PhD at the University of Pittsburgh and is currently an Associate Professor at the University of Hong Kong. She has published two collections of poetry, Woman to Woman and Other Poems (1997) and Water Wood Pure Splendour (2001), and her work has appeared in anthologies around the world. Her articles on Hong Kong writing in English have also appeared in World Literature Today and World Englishes. She was awarded the title of Honorary Fellow in Writing by the University of Iowa in 2008 and received the Nosside International Poetry Prize (Special Mention) in the same year. Her current research on Asian poetry in English is funded by the Hong Kong Research Grants Council.