The Silver Palace Restaurant
Shortlisted for the A.M. Klein Award for Poetry, 2005
“These poems could be taken for a travelogue of far-ranging proportions as Abley moves from China, Italy, the Gaspe Peninsula, to the Rocky Mountains, Montreal, and places in between. Yet Abley looks beyond any straightforward view to focus on what the speaker experiences at an immediate and inward level, using spare, uncluttered language. His view of the world is clear and sharp … The images and words are evocative, crisp, and swift in their impact.”
— The Danforth Review
“A shapely, well-tuned collection of poems … a buffet of extraordinary richness … This is a well-crafted, thoughtful volume that reveals a maturity of vision.”
— Prairie Fire
“Abley’s compelling and poignant poems convey the emotion of memory and place from start to finish … The collection itself is in the tradition of concisely and masterfully composed language. This is a book that will remain with us, long after we have put it down.” — poetryreviews.ca
For the backstory to the poem below, see an essay published in the magazine Maisonneuve: https://maisonneuve.org/article/2009/11/27/silver-palace-restaurant/
A poem from The Silver Palace Restaurant:
“The Guangzhou Engineering Student: A Letter”
Father, I am a little scared to explain
I will not be travelling home to spend
the New Year Festival with you and with my mother.
Nothing, father, used to give me richer pleasure
than standing beside you as our kite would float
high above your head toward the hills.
But this year, father, I cannot make
the winter journey: her name is Lo Chung
and for seven months she has served the public
in the Silver Palace Restaurant. Father,
you have been young, can you please imagine
the joy of wandering a city with my friends
on a Saturday night, not discussing metallurgy
but strolling past the neon signs of Xiajiu Lu,
the bridal parties and the Paris blouses,
diamonds, leopard coats and golden arches
brighter than a thousand village moons?
No, my father, I do not think you can.
If you have not already torn this page in two,
then before you read it to my mother
can I tell you one last thing? On my birthnight
in late November, after we had walked
down Xiajiu Lu, my friends and I,
we found our bicycles and rode the streets
to Shamian Island where my love stood working.
We dined on fresh-plucked pigeons and yellow wine
and Lo Chung, wearing a neat dark skirt
and a jacket the colour of ripe watermelons —
the sweet inside, I mean — smiled at me with her eyes
till all my laughing friends fell silent.
Father, have I said too much? May the year
unfurl without me like a swallow kite.