at the kitchen table

grandpa's painted violin
adorns his always shaven chin
under the pinks, blues, purples and greens,
lies a 10,000 dollar appraised reverberating tone
that resonates with the present.

sound
not the absence of air
be the presence of motion
stillness in
song.

and the price of the ticket
3 trips across the pacific.

one journey home.

i have heard these conversations
his music
if only while i was asleep.
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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.

I had two best friends

I was cleaning up my email inbox and I found this piece of writing from two years ago. Ever critical and self-conscious about my latest work, this is chilling to read because it is so apt. What’s interesting is I don’t think I’ve ever really had a “best friend” since, at least not in the common sense. I’ve had very close friends whom I might have called my best friend in middle school, but now I feel like that’s not how I would describe my dearest. Anyway, here’s the story from my childhood, unedited.

I had two best friends

In Kindergarten and Grade 1, I had two best friends: Nicholas Dhaliwal and Jesse Jacobson. Every recess and lunch hour we would hang out by the school’s boundary and collect chestnuts or play soccer on the field with the big boys. We would discuss pressing issues like if you ran faster with karate-chop hands or with boxer fists – I think Jesse won because he pointed out that he saw an Olympic sprinter run with karate-chop hands.

Out of the two, I had met Nicholas first. He was in the same morning class as me in the first half of Kindergarten and continued with me when we switched to the afternoon class. We were the fastest runners in our grade. He wore Nike shoes like me and was taller and skinnier than most of the class. Best of all, his nickname was Nick.

Every gym class, Nick and I competed for first place. If we were skipping rope, I had to skip longer than Nick. If we were playing basketball, Nick had to get to the basketball bin first.

Later into Kindergarten, Jesse joined the class. He was the new kid and had long blonde hair that he slicked back behind his ears. Imagine a childhood version of Dog the Bounty Hunter. That was Jesse. He was of Irish descent and the first kid I knew to wear cologne to school. And damn proud of it.

All through Kindergarten the three of us forged a friendship made of steel. Or titanium. Always the greatest and strongest metal we could think of. We maintained our cameraderie with code names and top secret missions. If we were assigned to form groups in class for math or pick members for a team, we always schemed to end up together – sometimes by chance, mostly by choice.

After our first school year together, Jesse had his birthday in the summer. His party was at his house. There was a clown who made balloon animals and a magician who performed magic tricks. We ate rectangular Domino’s Pizza and shared a cake with quarters baked into it.

From birthday parties with clowns to Power Ranger play fights, we shared everything with each other: stories, secrets, and even first kisses (we were five and it made the girls at school laugh).

One day, in the middle of Grade 1, Jesse said he was moving. He was leaving for Mexico with his Mom. Jesse was excited and talked about going surfing; I was confused and sad. Here was one of my best friends about to leave. He said that he might move back in a few years. He didn’t.

Shortly afterward, I found out that I was leaving, too. My family was moving from Vancouver to Coquitlam, a forty-five-minute drive away.

That summer brought on mixed feelings: I was excited to live in a new house and sad to leave my remaining best friend Nick behind. I was going to leave my co-op where I had lots of friends and learned how to ride a bike.

For many, Kindergarten and Grade 1 are a long time ago but at age six everything is a first and time has a relative feel to it where there are few experiences to base your choices from; childhood is a time when you live through experiences that you do not know how to live through.

Being in a different school district, I had professional days off at my new school when my old school had class. Because my mom worked nearby, my brother and I took the opportunity to go back to our old school to visit our old teachers and friends for the day.

The first few times I went back, I even knew which class to go to see Nick, but I started to lose track of which room he was in and during some visits I didn’t even see him. Soon, he was more of a memory than a friend.

The last time I did see Nick was when I went to visit my old school on a professional day in Grade 6. I was walking out to the soccer field at the start of lunch hour when I ran into him on the way there.

He was with his friends, whom I did not recognize. “Hey Nick. How’s it going? Have you heard from Jesse?” His friends did not recognize me either.

Nick recoiled, saying spitefully, “No. Don’t you get it? He’s gone for good. He’s never coming back. Get over it”

Hurt, I pushed Nick down and walked away. I don’t know what was more painful: that I had to accept Jesse was gone or that so was my friendship with Nick.

Moving to a new city was like transplanting a tree. All the deep connections I made uprooted and planted somewhere new, the old roots severed and left behind. Though the tree is in its new plot with fresh soil covering the roots, it still takes some time for the ground around it to become solid and firm.

the sea of stories (and creation)

look at the sky
a web of stars
without lines,
a game of connect the dots
drawn in invisible ink
escaping with the moon

maybe if we were close enough
you could drag your finger through the constellations
and feel each thread, strum a song
and call it god;
weave a patch
in
the fabric of existence

or spin heaven into a spool
and save it for a time at sea,
letting it out at the quiet of night

(or
make a home in a corner of the room
at the light of morning)
hang tiny beads of dew like
drops
of
honey...


and sail on, unfold into a map
a cornered box of a sphere,
the opened gift of raven's chest

float atop
    the sea of stories
               and creation.

You are not a wave

From Paulo Coelho’s blog, a story from Serdar Ozkan’s, The Missing Rose.

There was once a wave in the ocean, rolling along, enjoying the warmth of the sun and the swiftness of the breeze.
It smiled at everything around it as it made its way toward the shore.

But then, it suddenly noticed that the waves in front of it, one by one, were striking against the cliff face, being savagely broken to pieces.

‘Oh God!’ it cried. ‘My end will be just like theirs. Soon I, too, will crash and disappear!’

Just then another wave passing by saw the first wave’s panic and asked:
‘Why are you so anxious? Look how beautiful the weather is, see the sun, feel the breeze…’

The first wave replied:
‘Don’t you see? See how violently those waves before us strike against the cliff, look at the terrible way they disappear. We’ll soon become nothing just like them.’

‘Oh, but you don’t understand,’ the second wave said. ‘You’re not a wave. You’re a part of the ocean.’