Anyone bold enough can find
the booth in Ho Ping Lane, twin
shutters opened out like wings
heart strung with keys and locks
of every kind, tinkling
promises in the sultry wind.
Deep inside the master cutter squats,
squints as he selects a blank to suit
your purpose. He spins his wheel,
its sharp teeth bite sparking falling stars
that light the gloomy passageway, hums
as he smooths rough edges with his file.
Who knows but you and he which door, gate
or magic box your key unlocks, what lies beyond
or if, perhaps, in spite of all you’ve done,
however much you wiggle it, the key won’t fit.
Maybe that’s why the locksmith smirks;
he knows keys tend to multiply, get lost, worn
out, that you’ll be back next time you want
another precious thing unlocked.
Locked up. Locked out.
Judith Rawnsley is a poet based in Hong Kong. She recently took part in David Tait’s brilliant Tales from the World City course and wrote this poem in response to a prompt to write about a special place in the city, one with a hint of the uncanny or a touch of the mythical.
“I got the inspiration for this poem from Man Wa Lane (or Chop Alley), a little street in Sheung Wan, Hong Kong which is known for its stalls of Chinese name chop makers, but where you can also get keys cut. I got chatting with the locksmith, a retired civil engineer who now runs the booth set up by his father in 1957 as a hobby. There was nothing remotely creepy about him, but our delightful banter about the art of lock and key got me thinking about all the metaphorical possibilities.”
This is a fantastic poem. The last line comes as a surprise. Well done, Judith.