Returning again to this hutong hotel I come in from the frost, remove my mask, hand over my passport and order a beer. Check-in will be fifteen minutes, sir.
I step out into the courtyard, towards the small sad pond, winter water on the verge of growing its bones, the slow creak of rusted and muttering carp.
I’ve already got a pollution headache but I wait beneath the bare pomegranate tree and watch the two old parakeets, lovebirds, huddled up together, one cleaning the feathers on the other’s head, the other softly singing.
They’ve been here every time I’ve stayed. I’ve seen receptionists sneaking them breakfast-scraps of mango, and watched tourists smuggling pomegranates’ meaty red seeds between their bars like rubies.
I sip my beer, the birds softly sing, their little lungs inflating, deflating, the smog of Beijing simmering around us.
Like this, like this, we go on living, through the cold and the smog, through Spring Festival’s firecrackers, we go on, they go on, singing querulous songs:
O fire lantern, you are floating through the gathering thunderheads.