Commendable Awards

Senior Secondary

A visual representation of "Vanilla in the stars" by Agnes Lam

KWOK Wing Ting
Shung Tak Catholic English College

In this painting, I drew a little girl and a mysterious teenage girl in the centre. The little girl represents the writer when she was still a child. The mysterious girl represents the “myth” of parting, searching, reuniting in traditional tales. The writer doesn’t believe them when she was small, they seem like myths and fantasy to her. Therefore, she looks confused in the painting. However, the cultural ‘myth’ is always there, just like to mythical figure standing beside her.

Everyone was born with a star. In front of the little girl, there is a bright, shiny, golden star. This is her own star, given by the tradition and the “myth”. Everyone has once lived on this beautiful planet, watching the adorable starry night. Our ancestors did the same and so will our posterity. The “myth” will pass on from one generation to the next. Our lives will become ashes finally, but our spirits still shine and become stars to protect our posterity.

I have been attracted by the poem since I first read it. I am fascinated by the beautiful scene it describes, the thought-provoking messages it delivers and the elegant writing style it presents. The beautiful garden, the lovely starry sky and the rich imagery in the poem stay in my mind.

Vanilla in the stars

When I was a child,
I used to gaze at the stars above

our garden of roses, jasmine and lingzhi by the sea,
wondering how far away they really were,
whether they were shining still at the source
by the time their light reached me …

I was told that everyone was born with a star
which glowed or dimmed with the fortunes of each.
I also heard people destined to be close
were at first fragments of the same star

and from birth went searching for each other.
Such parting, seeking, reuniting might take
three lifetimes with centuries in between.
I had thought all these were but myths …

Now decades later, I read about the life of stars,
how their cores burn for ten billion years,
how towards the end, just before oblivion,
they atomize into nebulae of fragile brilliance –

ultra violet, infra red, luminous white, neon green or blue,
astronomical butterflies of gaseous light
afloat in a last waltz choreographed by relativity,
scattering their heated ashes into the void of the universe …

Some of this cosmic dust falls onto our little earth
carrying hydrocarbon compounds, organic matter
able to mutate into plant and animal life,
a spectrum of elemental fragrances …

Perhaps on the dust emanating from one ancient star
were borne the first molecules of a pandan leaf,
a sprig of mint or basil, a vanilla pod, a vine tomato,
a morning frangipani, an evening rose, a lily of the night …

Perhaps our parents or grandparents or ancestors further back
strolling through a garden or a field had breathed in the scents
effusing from some of these plants born of the same star
and passed them on as DNA in the genes of which we were made …

Could that be why, on our early encounters, we already sensed
in each other a whiff of something familiar, why, when we are near,
there is in the air some spark which seems to have always been there,
prompting us to connect our pasts, share our stories even as they evolve …

… till the day when we too burn away into dust
and the aromas of our essence dissipate
into the same kaleidoscope of ether light
to be drawn into solar space by astral winds …

… perhaps to make vanilla in a star to be
before the next lifetime of three?

Agnes Lam

“Vanilla in the Stars” was first published as:
Lam, Agnes. (2009). Vanilla in the stars. In P. Amato & M. J. Salfran (Eds.), Nosside 2008: XXIVth Poetry Prize anthology (pp. 89-92). Reggio Calabria: Centro Studi Bosio, Italy. (Published in English and Italian.)