If a man make a better mousetrap than his neighbour, the world will beat a path to his door – Emerson
Our neighbourhood cook Lao Wang was a kind of saint –
arriving every morning on his bicycle
at the moon-gate, with soft felt slippers
and brows arched like the Monkey King, bringing
the spirit of human kindness into our courtyard,
and pretending not to hear the street loudspeaker
parrot its endless hymn to the Great Helmsman.
When violence forced us out of the hu-t’ung quarter
to a modern compound, he asked to lodge with us
his pet canary, for fear it would not survive
Red Guard thugs purging the old customs.
If I played my 12-inch record of Mei Lan-fang
keening the tan falsetto from Scattering Flowers,
he’d lean against the door-jamb in a trance.
His attitude to mice was not ‘St Francis’
but fetched them all the same. On the kitchen floor
he’d anchor a raw sliver of bacon under
an egg-shell balancing on its open edge and
propping the rim of an inverted pudding basin
so the least nibble-tug brought down the trap:
with a squeeze his fist would empty little lungs.
Old stray Ginger, who should have been his ally,
mistook one night (catching him dazzled by England’s
’66 World Cup game on our cine-projector)
and was all but clean away with the bamboo cage,
until the canary’s wild cadenza rose
like a voice from Breaking the Siege.
As the cat succumbed
to a needle penalty shot, Lao Wang cried “Hao!”
Hao – the Chinese audience’s “Bravo” for a phrase well sung or agesture well executed.