Weeds grow where they want to; not where they're told to grow...


David Duncombe

Visiting Major Cheung

He’s in khaki, plain as his first fatigues
five decades ago, and the same neat fit.

A chestful of medals is hidden away,
but no need for pomp and ribbons.

His home is in the lanes of Liu Lin,
the last of the Beijing hutongs, open
on approval, to parties of tourists
to tread heavy-shoed and poke
long-nosed cameras into old China.

The major tells no secrets, shoots no lines,
but calls for tea, and asks, we’re told,
if we’ve seen the pandas in the zoo,
the Great Wall that now keeps no-one out
or the once-Forbidden Palace.

We wonder about the revolution,
but all questions are interpreted
by Mr Lee who tells us again
the major was simply an army man.

Family? Yes, and smiles and photographs -
a daughter, secretary of the writers’ union,
for authors, too, may serve the state.

And a grandson, who loves MacDonalds
and Premier football on satellite.

Tomorrow the major will march at dawn
to join old martial comrades in the park ,
to thrust with his sword and slice the air,
scattering invisible enemies.

Nearby, with mop-head brushes and buckets
of water, the calligraphers stroke
the old characters on paving slabs
then watch them evaporate.


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