Outstanding Awards

Senior Secondary

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

WAN Yu Kiu
YCH Wong Wha San Secondary School

My work is inspired by Agnes Lam’s poem “Vanilla in the stars”. I want to express the concepts of the reincarnation, eternity and endlessness of life in all living things.

The ancient astronomical instrument, also known as the armillary sphere, can capture my imagination of the poem both in mood and ideas. It has been used to form the focal point of my painting, with the brilliance of the nebulae as the background. It serves as the intricate link between the cosmic and the human worlds.

There are different frames in my work surrounding the centre. Different types of frames together represent the infinite cycle of time. Each line signifies a lifetime, both the beginning and the end. The soul-like figures are on different levels – different lifetimes, each looking for their own fragments of a star. In a lifetime, some are fortunate enough to have found each other, some are still in search of one, while some are not able to find their missing stars.

The cosmic dust fallen onto the earth has transformed into various parts of nature and has passed down as DNA in generations.

The cycle of life has no end. The mutual search for each other also has no end.

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.)