‘City Lights: San Francisco’, a new poem by Eileen Chong

City Lights: San Francisco

For H. Tamvakeras

I was reading a poem in that upstairs sunlit room
when I looked up and thought I saw you, Harry,
standing beside the window across from the apartment
where laundry hung outside like a fireman’s ladder snaking

down the brickwork. The man had your narrow shoulders,
the same frail back, your steel-grey hair. His head was covered
by a baseball cap. He was missing your glasses. It’s not
the first time I’ve seen your ghost around books –

in that Sydney apartment up for sale, where shelves
spilled into each room, crammed full of cookbooks,
histories and biographies, I’d thought it was you
smiling in the photographs. You’d fit right into

this windy city. You’d meet with the philosophers
on Wednesday nights, shop the farmers’ markets
on weekends, hold court in the downtown bars
over glasses of ouzo. You would shrug on 

your cracked leather jacket before winding your way
home up the hills, some steep as the hills of Lesbos.
The city lights shiver like so many eyes
before they close up against the darkness of the night.

Eileen Chong

Eileen Chong

Eileen Chong is a Sydney poet who was born in Singapore of Chinese descent. She speaks English, Singlish, Mandarin, and Hokkien, but only writes in English. Chong took a Master of Letters at the University of Sydney and was a recipient of an Australian Postgraduate Award for a Doctorate in Creative Arts at Western Sydney University. She eventually left her academic studies to write poetry full-time. Her poetry collections are Burning Rice (2012), Peony (2014), and Painting Red Orchids (2016), all from Pitt Street Poetry, Sydney. 

Individual poems of Chong’s have been recognised in major poetry prizes, shortlisting for the Newcastle Poetry Prize, shortlisting twice for the Peter Porter Poetry Prize, and longlisting three times for the University of Canberra's Vice-Chancellor's Prize, among others. Chong's books have been shortlisted for the Anne Elder Award, the Australian Arts in Asia Award, the Victorian Premier's Literary Award, and twice for the Prime Minister's Literary Award. 

Chong is the first Asian-Australian poet to have a book published in the Braziller Series of Australian Poets by George Braziller in New York: this was Another Language (2017). Her latest book is The Uncommon Feast (2018), a collection of essays, poems, and recipes, published by Recent Work Press, Canberra.

A new collection of poems, Rainforest, is forthcoming in April 2018 with Pitt Street Poetry, Sydney.

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