I just finished reading ‘Sugarbread’ and was left deeply impressed by acute depictions of religious corruption, and casual racism on this sunny island since its independence. This book also centers on the struggles of the Protagonist’s mother in dealing with her traumatic past. It brings to mind of my own.

A friend tonight mentioned that, overhearing a conversation I had with my Mother, about the frustration I had my voice. I seldom talk like that to Mom – It was more of how she purchased financial products (super low-risk ones like the Savings Bonds) for quite a while now but still didn’t understand it fully. But it always hurts when she claims that she’s too stupid to understand anything. It’s a complex she had for years, paralyzing her in times of immense stress. I should have been more patient, in hindsight.

It brought to mind about how Dad was elitist when he was still with us. Before he left he argued with my Mom over rather trivial matters but insulted her intelligence. I don’t understand how someone can take so much pride in their own intelligence just to put down others. Just because she was a diploma holder while he held a degree. I’ve seen him talk down service staff and lower-income job holders, too.

Mom doesn’t want anything to do with her own family, especially Dad’s. Dad’s side consists of people who are mostly Christian, and upper-middle class. She was acutely aware of how my aunts were subservient to their husbands, and unconditionally accepted their gaping personality flaws. In some way, Dad and his brothers were either sexually promiscuous, had terrible tempers, or were condescending in general. She disapproved of my aunts, degree holders and professionals in their own capacity, of putting up with the antics of my uncles for the sake of a religiously-fueled vision of a family.

I’m glad I write poems about her occasionally. Her mother, my Grandmother was a domestic helper who had to deal with her cheating husband’s and drug-addled son’s shit. Great-grandmother fled her home in Hong Kong during WWII just to endure 3 years of occupation by Imperial Japan in Singapore. She sold bee hoon in the north back then, raising five children singlehandedly. Both matriarchs in their own right. Mother is the next in line in generations of incredibly resilient women, all who unfortunately had to suffer due to the men in their lives being poor excuses of people.

At least by writing , I can count the mistakes of the men in my family, while celebrating the women who have made worldly things possible.

 

 

She was Never Able to Drink Tea

(after N. Wang’s ‘She Never Drinks Her Tea’)

Her house is personal in a way her Father
freeloads upon, paying rent by accusations.
She cannot hear her own footsteps over the
din, being unwelcome in her own house is
a swelling of feet, lights that refuse to work,
lao hua* glasses on a 20/20 past, one where
the tidiest living room has a worn-out tile
with edges that she cannot vacuum out,
where her calloused feet steps on blame
where a divorce must be a woman’s fault.
A headache upon trigger-happy migranes,
triggered by happy things from chocolate to ice.
For which, she was always brewing drinks
that were never her cup of tea. Drinks scalding
like a hot shower routine where she boils soap.
He was the pot that called her a black kettle;
The only black she sees is when sleeping it off,
dozing in bed with a Korean soap on an iPad
that distracts a scalding mouth, since tea
keeps her calm and awake in a nightmare.

 

*lao hua (“老花” in mandarin Chinese): Presbyopia

Dumplings

Mom claims she forgot, two decades without

touching a chopping board. But it’s still drying

up against the wall after being washed.

“Just buy frozen ones,” I pled, waking this morning

instead to find ingredients and flour painting the table,

filling the wrinkles of her hands. Eternal summers give us

less reason to handwash, too much like wringing sweat, but

the swept-back hair exposing her slick forehead is from

her habit of forgetting things and taking the long way.

It is the skins. Every fold pressed in has her going

back and forth. She loads in water chestnuts, mushrooms,

diced meat and the last of her morning. She serves them

in soup hot as the afternoon, still fresher than the memory when

I last had them at ten – it was night then, same ingredients

on a moldy board with fewer scars than her in Dad’s old house.

At least she remembers the recipe, and doesn’t need to return there.