Poetry / February 2010 (Issue 10)


by Chris Tse

In this terracotta haze
           my skin reads like foxed pages,
     yesterday’s news

forged by the trial and error
           of endangered life.
This country        built on a heart

of borders            between old and new
           every life a soldier
caught up in uneasy grace.


Just another chink in my armour.

Just another son missing

in a long line of dislocations

from the motherland

from a mother tongue

that licks at the hollow

of my mouth, down

to each last beat

of my difficult language.


This talk of the other that trails

my every move back home
speaks not of defiance, but of blood-clot guilt.

Here, like evidence on trial,

it pushes me across

every defined border

only to end up on my own side        still
where the verdict
is my scarlet letter.


           Of course it mattered back then too,
possibly even more so —
not knowing which crayons to use at school

           for family portraits
                       and if it wasn’t my name
or my lunchbox contents

it was the Chinese tongue
I so easily surrendered
to the playground government

all my colours running in the wash.
           These days it seems I’m losing
myself again            more than ever

reborn in China                        like every other disconnected branch
split straight down the middle
           and walked out into proof.

They can see who I really am
all soil and tears                        the product of fearless journey
            and the settler dream

when all I want
is to be brave
           in safety with my inherited demons.


I am but a tourist             a counterfeit
in their nights of private games,
           scattered on the wind

a million leaves to the score.
I bring nothing but
a selfish search                        and a claim to belong.

Behind the safety of hotel windows
           protected from the vice-like grip
                       of beggar kids

where curtains divided
reveal this country
                       for what it is:

grey              inconsistent
for reasons unknown            utterly addictive.
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