Selected poems from “All the Words a Stage” by Nashua Gallagher

Nashua Gallagher Nashua Gallagher

Apparently a good pun does not need to be explained. But this title is no joke. I like puns, and I like words, and many of them made their way to a stage as they developed through different phases in my life. Incidentally, I like Shakespeare too.

All the Words a Stage, Nashua Gallagher (Chameleon Press, July 2018)
All the Words a Stage, Nashua Gallagher (Chameleon Press, July 2018)

This is a story from ages sixteen to twenty-something, set in a tall city on an autumn Wednesday evening in late 2005. It began when a girl, who sometimes studied and sometimes worked, made her way to a tiny unassuming cafe and bar tucked away in one of the side streets of Hong Kong’s Soho district and gave voice to some of the words in this book. I hadn’t intended for them to move beyond paper, or from between the (then) electric blue walls of Joyce Is Not Here, Artists Bar and Café. Nor could I have anticipated how this weekly gathering amongst friends would grow into a beloved literary collective now known as Peel Street Poetry.

* * *

Mother Tongue
Language recall
is like parts of a peppercorn going through a sieve
caught in the back of your throat,
Sounds falter, and become the pause before the mother of all sneezes –
I emphasize with billowing gestures
build a crescendo in the lull,
Create with hands, the meaning
in the space
where my sentence trailed
and words really ought to be.


Passing by Mong Kok
Night feels thick against my skin,
Inside a thuggish bus ride,
Ramshackle starts and stops,
Lending glimpses of the evening playbill.


China dolls, sashaying porcelain hips,
Pretty-girl gaze ovate,
Preying, praying, surveying,
Waste-not, want-nots.


Kids, flew the nest to the nearest branch,
Cigarette perched, hair-slicked, trilling laughter,
Blared lights from inside the nightclub,
Stanching shadows, swallow them in.


This granddad, he coughs next to me —
Thoughts wearing valleys through his scalp,
He sits slumped, vibrations animate jowl and gut,
Neon dances on his sleeping form,
My thoughts, now too, a plaything of the city.


Watching rapt, eyes shot wide,
The tale of our lives just passing by,
Our lives just passing by…


Midnight Tai Tais, Lan Kwai Fong
Cigarette smoke rises to heavens,
As if it serves much use up there.
Stilettos snap, cleavage dips, tummies tucked
and dresses hitched,


Thin beams hack, music thumps,
Night sways, sighs, unwinds,
Whisked on magic carpet rides, to
where dreams won’t expire,
Pumpkins remain coaches
for as long as one desires.


Ring tans swathed,
Glasses clink,
For the magic to work you must not blink.
Who brought the spoil-sport, stifling a yawn?
Head bopping, playing along,
Dipping my toes into the shallows of a song,
Thinking of a man, half a day behind —
Arms outstretched, in case I fall.


Tai O Village
History for them is like ginger,
Built over the exposed film
Of thousands of lives, lived afloat
Before and after their time.
The storm grinds and they make
Thunder inside with their mahjong tiles,
We three still slower than we need be, strolling past
The irony of dried fish hanging in the rain,


Patrolling crabs amongst the mangrove dwarfs,
Shying as first rain falls, like
Long-legged grasshoppers in the wind,
There are squeals and thuds for shelter,
The damp wood squeaks,
On pebbled paths,
Slippers slap past
Coats darken from the damp,


My boy has fallen asleep inside the buggy
Trapped air warming his soft skin,
Away from life’s curiosities for now,
Wet stares, shrines hydrant-red as we stalk past,
The storm grinds and they watch
From Inside the hollows of their homes,
We’re caught in a spectator sport,
Somewhere between sodden and soaked,
Framed through a window.


Excerpted from All the Words a Stage, poetry by Nashua Gallagher (Chameleon Press, July 2018); reprinted with permission.

Nashua Gallagher is the founding director of Peel Street Poetry, a literary arts collective that have run spoken word sessions and other events in Hong Kong since 2005. Her debut poetry collection is All the Words a Stage.