Poem of the Week — Julianne Chua

Posted on November 10 2017

from the anthology 'Inheritance'

"We’ve never been to our ancestral village but for the first time,
we found ourselves familial yet foreign, winding through worn
paths, knocking on doors and asking strangers if they knew of
people of this surname or that generational name. Inscribed in
gold lettering above the door frame, hand-painted in calligraphic
strokes on twin red lanterns that held the space between them ajar,
our family name. A common bearing welcoming relatives old
and new. We stood in front of the altar unsure, our adult hands
unclenched to form child’s fingers clasping joss sticks in prayer.

Welcome home, they say. The men, they left the village, some
sold to other men aboard boats that rocked them across rough
seas in search of work across Southeast Asia. Some, like my
grandfather or great-great-grandfather, find themselves several
oyster shores away in Singapore. They almost never return, so
the women, they weave tales of lost love into oral poetry as they
spend their whole lives and afterlives waiting. The crumbling
houses are smothered with overgrown sweet potato vines, houses
built from remitted money, for those with filial piety. A week,

and we couldn’t find the house my great-grandmother grew up
in. Yet, we came across distant relatives who didn’t know us at
all and invited us into their living and dining rooms for hours,
insisting on meals with a generosity that translated into endless
dishes. We’re separated by a sea and three generations (or five),
but here’s my uncle’s nose, there’s my brother’s chin."
— Julianne Chua

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