The Language We Were Never Taught to SpeakPlaylist by Grace Lau
I began writing poetry in earnest around 2016 and 2017. I'd always loved reading and writing in some form, but writing poems specifically came much later. Reading these poems again now, I suspect that this is the reason the themes in the collection vary so much—I hadn't been able to process so many different events in my life until I started writing poems!
I believe it was the wonderful writer Ocean Vuong who said the act of reading a poem out loud gives it a new life, that "the air is a second page." For me, the act of writing these poems down gave not only my memories (especially the sad and angry ones), but also me, much-needed new lives. In a sense, it released me from them, and them from me.
My father is a good Christian man who speaks with the kind of grace that can rouse three hundred souls, even during the pauses, even when he’s taking a breath. Cantonese slips on eloquence like a cheung sam dress as it leaves his tongue. Have you ever seen a congregation inhale as one, straighten its shoulders like an orchestra brought to attention?
My father has a voice like a train rushing headlong over the tracks near our church. My father’s voice was made for the gavel. My father’s voice gathers clouds. Be ye angry, and sin not: Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.
When I was a child, my father and I fought and my voice would cower, play Peter, deny me though it loved me. My voice would get lost, never find its way out of the safety of my lips. My voice was not made for war. It had the shakes and a fear of crowds.
Now, when I call upon my voice, I tell it this: Let them hear me. I am my father’s daughter.
We don’t know how old Grandma is. She stole a few extra years in Toishan to work in Hong Kong— an early birthday gift for a hungry house.
Now her age is another secret with no answer, like what’s really in her delicious jellyfish sauce and why have I never brought a boy home.
My grandmother’s tongue bends time, stretches the years like practiced hands pulling pushing kneading dough into a shape agreeable
to her memory. She’s been telling me she’s ninety proudly for the last six years.
She asks again when she will get to eat beng, if I’ve met any good men, when she will have her cup of cha . I wonder if the truth would scald or soothe I try to remember if she’s 91 or 92; I think of the woman I love and I say, Soon, Grandma. Soon.
When we leave / the fortress of El Morro at sunset / a rainbow of / Havana-bound taxis curl / round the gate, waiting / for los malditos turistas to make up their minds Ten pesos? Vamos, ten pesos—
A fifties Ford pulls up beside us / top down / an American classic / in the wrong country / wrong century / holding the past and present awkwardly together / like how the taped-up door handle clings / to the panel for dear life and / somehow / stays on—
I think about Uber and cabs / with air conditioning back home and I don’t / miss them.
This one is soft / blue, a cloudless sky before it bleeds / pink into balmy dusk / and then we’re flying into the spell / of the swelling moon / and then we’re falling into the Túnel de la Bahía / swallowed by the womb / again / and then we disappear / into salt air / Icarus would’ve lived / if he chose the night.
I give up trying / to fix my hair / tangled in whispers / ghosts of passengers past / we emerge from the darkness / thrust into life—
Havana unfurls / before us / twilight bloom / dama de noche / ] a girl like me has no business taking a / bride this beautiful.
It is Friday night and we are at home on the couch, your head on my shoulder, a well -worn path. This is not the first time you have slowed my hours and yet how the seconds gasp to be doing nothing at all but feeling the universe wax content in your breath.
It is Saturday night and we’ve left our other lovers in a lull -aby moon that croons beneath a dusty frame like a memory of the sun that offers no warmth. There is only the green of your eyes ringed with gold, as clear as a summer stream, and I feel as if I will never thirst again.
It is Sunday morning and the spell remains unbroken, I trace you in what’s left of stardust. Another leaf has burst forth from our English ivy. I can’t remember when I gave the sun back his hours but now I am at peace with the world and its unloveliness. Yes, I think would be happy doing this every night of my life.