Poetry / August 2009 (Issue 8)

Two Poems

by Lillian Kwok


Here is the hot country, remember it.
Here is the pen where the chickens ran.
           We killed them ourselves—
           folded the wings back
           grabbed the neck
           and cut the jugular vein.
           We drained the blood into a pan 
           and when it coagulated
           we cut it in squares
           and ate it like Jell-O.

Here are the legends, here is how you repeat them.
Here is the mountain where they grow the sweetest tea in the world.
           Remember the taste of it.
           Remember the sting of ginger,
           the way to peel a lichee,
           the rotting smell of durian. 
           Remember you can never go back.
           Remember sitting on an orange crate 
           in a dusty Chinatown
           chewing dried cuttlefish.

Elegy for an Old Man

Do you know, dead man, that you meant nothing to these islands?
Your death had not the least effect on the way the wind blows sweetly
here or on the clearness of the sea. The tourists still come in droves
and they don't notice the difference, the deficiency in their paradise.
Who misses your slow, shuffling steps? There are a hundred old men
to take your place, who are even now counting down to their deaths
as they hobble up Kapiolani Avenue. They all look like you. They
sleep curled on a tatami mat and leave their slippers outside their doors
at night, like you did. Here, you were silent and no one knew you.
Thirty years in this country and just a handful of English words.
I could never remember how to pronounce your name or write it out
in your twisting language. I never knew if you loved this country.
After all, it is an imported paradise, mapped out, stretched into place.
After all, they shipped in the sand, the palm trees, and the prostitutes
who walk the night streets of Waikiki. People die here without seeing
their native lands one last time. The ocean watches it all with placid,
dumb eyes. Here, old man—where the Filipina women smoke cigarettes
on the lanais—here, you saw me leave my tiny baby footsteps on this land.
You sat me on your lap and fed me Portuguese egg tarts, and your wife wove
hibiscus and plumeria flowers in my hair. I was crown princess of the islands
and you were my throne as I napped in the sea breeze. Yet, they tell me
you ranted and raved and slapped the maids, that you belted your children
and abused your wife. But by the time the years got to me, they got to you
and turned you back into a child, into a paper-man, whose eyes drooped
lower and lower like upside down crescent moons. Now that you're ashes
in a mausoleum, we eat banquets in your name at your favorite restaurant.
We shout at each other in our raucous language and we take up the entire
banquet hall. You used to look so surprised that we all came from you.

Website © Cha: An Asian Literary Journal 2007-2018
ISSN 1999-5032
All poems, stories and other contributions copyright to their respective authors unless otherwise noted.