slang

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?
kowloon?
always the outer skirt of lady britain's domain,
never quite city familiar.

right,
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.

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 ancestry.com 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.

still,lost
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: http://youtu.be/eP5dakbuXG8.

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
l 
  i
    f
      e

&
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.

embers

Be warmed by the fires of love.
Be rocks drearily coaxed into slow, radiant heat;
bask baking bare to the breeze. Be the middle of the circle. the centre of family.
the baby born into the arms of grandmother and grandfather.
Be the beat of feet and soft bed of palms turned up to the sky.
Be the whispered moment. Be the background voices and the sound of mom. ear to warm chest,
like the ear to a shell. it is the ocean calling.
Be seen in the dancing shadows. Be the delighted shrieking children.
Be the hunters drinking mead.
Be the warm mug of coffee, cigarette in finger,
hands wrapped ’round glazing clay; looking down
into a bowl of stars.

once and for all

&
patterns
die
slow...

(because)
you didn't know

that when you grabbed him
by the scruff of HIS neck
1, 2, 9, 25 years old

you reached into the present day
and left your red hand marks
on mine


you didn't know

that your one-time abuse
your temper thrown tone
(scraping in my ears
like heavy metal screams)

     would be the
angry echoed yell

banging on walls
adorned with family photos,
printed monet paintings,
&
good luck fortune scrolls

(from nails
your legacy dangles
like vertical paper diaries
folded into
knuckles
and
teeth..


your work,
a porcelain bowl's glaze
dripping and crackling,
reaching perfection
long after
the artist has died..
                             ..)


you didn't know
that
your scolding, frustrated strikes

       would become
the things on the dresser
my dad pushed to
the ground,
burning holes in the carpet
like a coal left on wax:

grandfather-shaped
depressions
i
fell into..

you didn't know that

the bruise
on my
soul


would become
the pain in my girlfriend's smile
the shaken ground upon which i walk
long days of occasional parent fights
going to sleep
with a twisted stomach

4 generations ago,
one carried abuse
passed down
from father to son to son to son

a
pattern
that bleeds
into my present

the history that speaks
and repeats
  and repeats
    and repeats
      and repeats


until  it  is  heard

once
and for all.

In Ancient China, potters adorned their ceramics with glazes that were meant to reach crackled “perfection” generations after they had died, achieving the desirable glassy blue-greens and “robin’s egg” hue. Lined with intentional cracks, this style of artwork entailed the use of a specific glaze that would gradually drip from the rims of clay bowls and settle at the bottom.

mother (we are spirits)

For S*

in

my


  dream

i
sang

soft melodies, blasting arpeggios,
commanding silences,
soulful human tones

and
there
sat you

clapping your hands to the beat
turning light into heat
my words into feet


the joy of your smile
intoxicated my songs,
strung me along
bounced like tassles
free to dance
& play

i felt happy
every soothing essence coalesced like
a planet spinning under the stars
graceful giant wisps of brilliance
a glimpse of the great unknown


wandering
wandering...

and
there i found you again, in
a pocket
sleeping,
a warm memory,
a familiar shape,

a stone i wear around my neck

paper boat

i

am

already

starting
		)beginning

to forget..



those houses built and raised
by families
children
mothers
below age

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



here
in the new land
we are the friendly neighbours
who-moved-away-neighbours
and 'never returned'
neighbours

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
another
	pocket,

put an ocean between you
and called it separation
'immigration'
	'integration'

it was
humiliation>



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

a melted ice
land


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.

family

just when my mind begins to race
imagining disasters in the ten-fold
tragedy unimaginable…

i remember that time moves slow enough
to catch yourself caught in the moment,
that ‘it’ is just right…

that mom’s hands never really age,
forever giving you enough to hold onto
if only wrapped around her one finger..
the first heartbeat you’d known

that dad’s tears are real badges of parenthood,
there when you screw up
and succeed… more than words,
saltwater lessons of life

that brother’s love is always there,
even when he was smarter, stronger, faster
he wasn’t trying to be better,
he just was…

that sister’s care is always stronger
than a proud defeat,
and she is always mother’s touch
even as miles – or inches – away..

and family is a root
a trunk
a branch

a leaf floating gently down
at the kiss of wind..

a wellspring of hope
a fountain of youth

a history, a language
and a name.

Looking back: boy & girl louies

Looking back on pictures of summers past, it’s easy to romanticize a one-time trip as an every year occurrence during a period of our time: childhood, adolescence…

boy & girl louies

But then again, don’t we go back into our pasts every-time we reflect on our memories? I read in a Psychology Today article that there are two kinds of selves: the ‘experiencing’ self and the ‘remembering’ self. The experiencing self is the part of our conscious awareness that is here in the moment while the remembering self is the part of our consciousness that creates a record of what we did. The main difference between the two is that when we remember an event in our lives, we then experience it as it happened when we lived through it, as it was recorded by our remembering self. As a Psych major, it’s nothing new to view memory as something immediate; we’re all an aggregate of our pasts, presents and futures – a part of us always as who we were, as we are, and as we are to become. I like to look at history that way, as a path or passage and not merely a passenger upon it.

As I look at these photos again of great times with cousins on Mayne Island I can’t help but feel like this always happened. I’m sure this feeling will only get reinforced in the years to come, but that’s what makes the philosophy of life – that it is ultimately about our memories made – so attractive.

Maybe it’s that dichotomous relationship with our realities that can so torment us; we always have a half in the past and a half in the present. One that is here and one that has stepped behind, hoping to disappear into our memories of summers past. But the same torment that can come from days gone by can also breed within us the great fire of hope that tomorrow will bring reprieve. That tomorrow will be different. That tomorrow will be the same.