by Tegan Smyth, winner of the Peel Street Poetry Slam Contest 2016
My mother always told me that the only thing in life
That can never be taken away from me is education.
She scaled a bamboo ladder to a glass ceiling.
When I was younger, it seemed she stood like a paragon of virtue,
Like she alone
Could hold up half the sky.
She, the first in her family to get a tertiary education,
Her parents were
Simple village folk
From Hakka villages and
Unbound large feet.
Always seeming natural
In a world dominated by power suits and whiskey rooms,
Express business lunches and late night mistresses.
She told me
Be an educated woman.
If your husband ever leaves you,
Never be the one
To seek dominion at his feet.
Be able to close the door on your relationships,
Reach your hands up,
Now there is winter in her hair,
Peppered in a way she would call distinguished.
Some days I see her eyes bloodshot.
There is nothing more terrifying than
When you no longer see your parents as personal gods.
I see the glances:
Curt words and snarling tongues
Asking her whether she is minding the master's children.
People see the melanin in her skin,
Not her masters degree.
Asking if today is her day off
And how magnanimous her employer is
How formidable she is.
I sometimes recall her words.
"Reach beyond your grasp,
I realise inhabiting this world
In a city where a million lights blaze
But somehow it still feels cold
Is not attaining everything within your reach.
There is a reason bamboo is scaffolding,
It is hard to break a paradigm.
Tegan Smyth has spent equal parts of her life in Hong Kong and Australia, where she was born. She is an aspiring writer and regular at Peel Street Poetry
, writing about language, culture and identity politics, drawing from her experiences as a mixed-race woman. When not writing, she goes to her day job, organises community events (HK Community Connect) and watches way too much YouTube.