i don't know how my ancestors walked to canada
over the miles of roads meant for travel faster than foot:
wagon paths of stone and mud with 10 chickens on their back,
there's a reason there are a billion bicycles in China,
great great grandfather must have had to file and sand his own knees
to bend them into perfect circles. how else could these roads be traversed?
meanwhile great great grandmother must have died of worry --
the worst sickness
unknown to the family
because telegraphs didn't span the pacific ocean.
and paper was expensive.
those chickens weren't yet money to buy rice,
and they were too skinny for eggs, not that we could eat shells, anyway.
but maybe we'll try.

did i forget?
how did he get to hong kong?
always the outer skirt of lady britain's domain,
never quite city familiar.

because money's hard to spend,
when its locked in the white banker's savings.

i hear that the bridge lies beneath the waters,
foundations in ruins.
and someday i'll walk it
and meet grandma
on the other side.

a foreigner

i am a foreigner
 only, i don't know from which land
 i am foreign to.
 here, in a nation called "Canada"
 i am not treated as a citizen. though, i was born
and qualify by the rules.

i am treated as an outsider
 within my own people,
 gossip passed in front of me,
 like a bottle of wine
 around a young child.
contents forbidden.

and when i go back 'home'
 i cannot read the signs in my language,
 only in English.
 i need a translator
 to speak to my elders.

and, though i try to find a home in the name of
 i do not really go wandering.
 if anything, i am searching,
 purposefully looking with intent,
 but the results are not easy
and as i dig, and dig, and dig,
the deeper i go, &
the wider the hole.
the wider the hole.
the wider the hole.

no train to china

i'll never give up my history
to assimilate into a culture
that has forgotten its name
a culture whose web
of videos
tries to sell back family history
that was lost
because it was more convenient
not to have to carry ID.
the stories of my people
involve telling white people
with white tongues
how to fill out white papers.
a white stamp on our head
tax certificate: a white lie.
the least wanted:
the most documented
and white i white my story,
50, 100, 150 years later
white letters turn brown
in well-whited archives
listed addresses in the white pages
never white delivered
to village homes
in red china.

grandfather's secrets murmur
beneath white
blankets on gold mountain,
under a fresh layer of
white noise.

This poem was inspired by the ACCESS community television broadcast series Uncovering Gold, which discusses Chinese-Canadian migration through a multimedia format. Part 1 can be found here:

children of canton

i thirst for the connection of language
that thing you so easily conceal
until a few drinks down
and you no longer care
"ngo-di hai loong jai"
we are bound by the same
name same shame same
hate, same insolence same (innocence)..
that the appearance and cadence
of whiteness
is what we strive for
but can never amount to

i wish i could speak like you
i wish my tongue had your wings
i wish i could touch the sky with an aerosol can
painting words like i've never known

f r e e d o m
j u s t i c e
l o v e
l i b e r a t i o n

reach into that bag of words
a trick or two.
a greeting. a phrase. an idea.

but until then,
i'll surround myself with police-action movies,
mandarin love songs..
and recreate what my family
could not give me.

paper boat





to forget..

those houses built and raised
by families
below age

growing side by side in rows
in villages
in a billion person economy
a pocket
of home

in the new land
we are the friendly neighbours
and 'never returned'

the best friend whom you shared
your first kiss
living always
in the past-

a memory
a treasury...

they tried
to remove you,
erase you,
tell you that you don't belong
put you in another town

put an ocean between you
and called it separation

it was

but in my heart of hearts
i know
that we are connected by a bridge

a melted ice

under sea,

and all i need
is a paper boat.

I wrote this poem today called “paper boat” but in private, I think is more fittingly called “our story.” In it, I’ve tried to tell the story of my family from the reaches of my own perspective which are limited to my knowledge and experiences and position in the family tree. I draw upon childhood images of the “first generation” as it may have been in Seck-Hee as well as how it was for the “first and a half generation” and “second generation” growing up in Canada:

Making paper boats with Grandma.