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.
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.
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.
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.
& 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.
There is NOTHING like the joy on grandma's face when i speak my broken cantonese. what little i know. one grandson among many.
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
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.
just when my mind begins to race
imagining disasters in the ten-fold
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 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 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…
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.