Will Harris is a poet and critic from London. He was shortlisted for the 2018 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem and received a Poetry Fellowship from the Arts Foundation in 2019. He is the author of the chapbook All this is implied and the essay 'Mixed-Race Superman', published by Peninsula Press in the UK and Melville House in the US. His poems have been featured in the Guardian, the Poetry Review, and the anthology Ten: Poets of the New Generation. His debut poetry collection, RENDANG, is forthcoming from Granta in February 2020.
When Marenka said they have beautiful
opium pipes but nothing about the opium war
we were sitting on the museum’s front lawn
drinking tea. No one asked why. Colin
mentioned Captain Cook: They wanted to kill him but they didn’t want to take his soul, which is why they gave the British back his head.
In my head I was inspecting a face on a table
laid out with bubble wrap, not sure if
it was hers. When we went inside light left
the room behind us. It was the weight
of ownership. To mine own self be true.
Upstairs at the museum, I wore latex gloves
to inspect a brass box and found inside
that box a smaller box containing
a single wooden die. Unnumbered.
I cupped it like a tiny head and checked
each identical face against the light. A roulette box , the index card said. A Chinese gambling game acquired in Java from the Dutch collector C. M. Pleyte. In my head I was thinking
of beautiful opium pipes. The souls
of Chinese traders. I put the box back on
the bubble wrap and we talked about the time
when. I mentioned my Dutch grandma
born in Java. The time when my dad met
my mum and she said Indonesia and he
told her. The time when beasts most graze. What are you writing about? In my head
I was inspecting a face on a table, not sure if
it was hers. I was thinking about the first death.
The time when I came home, aged thirteen,
holding a bag of fast food and Mum
told me. How. When. I heard the door
close as light left the room behind us.
They had names. They were the owners
of their faces. Now we meet as strangers on
a table laid out with bubble wrap.
I’m writing about them. Words in place
of speech. Whichever way you hold
them to the light, they look the same.