Canal (1)

By Shelly Bryant 

we've become acquaintances
this past fortnight
of the sort I call
nodding neighbours

I've mentioned to some friends
that first day, when I startled you
on the staircase by the canal

I confess
I stared

you are not, after all
at all the sort usually seen
in my xiaoqu

I confess
I snapped

those photos less furtively
than I'd have liked
– and I knew you weren't pleased by it

but I did not mean to incite
your flight from the rail
and out over the water's face

I've taken to calling you
my bird, to the amusement of friends who hear
it first as the Chinese euphemism
and wonder what I'm not telling

in fact
I'd like it

if we could be friends
I'll even try to learn your name
where you're from, what you like
(beyond the seafood I saw you catch
yesterday at dawn)

I'll learn

to give you your privacy
and perhaps one day we may
know how to interpret one another's stares
for their friendly intent
since, after all, we seem
to have both settled in quite well

Shelly Bryant is the cofounder of Literary Shanghai. She divides her year between Shanghai and Singapore, working as a poet, writer, and translator. She is the author of nine volumes of poetry (Alban Lake and Math Water Press), travel guides, and a book on classical Chinese gardens.