Poetry / November 2012 (Issue 19)

Your First Grade Teacher Insists Your Name Is Lai Fong, Not Lai Yee

by Lisa Low

This alphabet means nothing to you
shaping letters and animals.
Your grandfather napping
on a wooden board,
your mother shucking water
chestnuts, shiitakes wrinkling
in a bowl. Your father
who speaks neither
of war nor your stepsiblings
will come home
from Kowloon once this month.
Light speckles the hills
where you learned
to swim. The house where
you sucked the fish heads
dry. Later you'll drink
milk, speak a language
you didn't care for. Afternoons
there are caves and eels,
neighbours gambling
through the storms, saltwater
iridescent as beetles.
I can't see any of this in the little
sunken house you show me.
How your name lives under
the other. What it looks like
having been inside you
for so long. Even now
your bitterness is a silk
envelope heavy with your
mother's gold jewellery. Even now
pails of water you lift
home on both shoulders, leaking.
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