Two poems by Jennifer Lee Tsai

 
 

    I remember

 

you were the first man who taught me about death. I was five years old; we were walking
across the fields to my school. Do you remember, Ba? It was an autumn morning, I think.
The trees dazzled us with their electricity. Po Po had died in June, on my sister’s birthday.
The deities in the house were covered with fire-cracker red paper. Removal of mirrors.
A white cloth placed across the main door. The thin threads of mourning, her ghost trembling
in the spaces between us. A black witch moth magnetised by flame, its singed wings. Burning
of paper money, igniting of joss sticks. A soul-table for the deceased. Coloured lights
around the casket. Snow-white irises. White ribbons. White paper boats drifting down a stream.
On the altar, photograph of Po Po in her youth. You and my uncles in black. As grandchildren,
we wore dark blue. Later, a man from the same village as my grandparents, paid tribute
to her beauty, her skin as smooth as the dragon-eye fruit. She gave birth to four boys, gambled
her fortunes away in Liverpool’s Chinatown – was it somewhere on Nelson Street? Her first
name means ‘silver’. I saw, then, the allure of memory, her dusty wings beat fast, faster now,
imploring me not to forget. I’ve always been entranced by her chatoyant colours, her shadows,
her gloom. You held my hand and asked me if I remembered my grandmother. In Chinese,
there are no tenses. The past is the present is the future. And in Cantonese, the language,
which I heard in my mother’s womb, my original language which has now been superseded
by English, I told you I remember.

 
 
 

    Kuk Po

 

Plum blossom, peonies. I carry them to your house
on my back, uprooted flowers – I’m bent double with their weight.

My grandmother’s village is far from here.
A forgotten ghost town, south of the Starling inlet.

I see the village through a screen.
Empty houses, the painted walls abraded by time.

Dusty furniture, random chairs and tables,
A mechanical, broken fan; abandoned tea ceremony.

Cows, chickens, pigs roamed in the fields.
Now only the cows are left;

wandering forlorn through the valley,
the occasional feral cat stalks the backstreets.

Wild vegetation sprawls over the farmland.
Still, some houses have running water

and electricity though no one lives there;
the owners have long emigrated abroad.

My grandmother’s village is far from here
If you go there, you won’t see a soul.

I went there once in another time; their house
had darkened to an unholy glow, lit only

by the shadow of the moon; she was alive,
greeted me with open arms but grandfather cast me aside.

 

Note: the italicised lines are from an Aztec love song

 
 

Jennifer Lee Tsai

About Jennifer Lee Tsai

Jennifer Lee Tsai is a poet, editor and critic. She was born in Bebington and grew up in Liverpool. Jennifer is a fellow of The Complete Works, a Ledbury Poetry Critic and Contributing Editor to Ambit. Her work is published in the Bloodaxe anthology 'Ten: Poets of the New Generation' (2017) and her debut poetry pamphlet is 'Kismet' (ignitionpress, 2019). In 2019 she was awarded an AHRC scholarship to undertake doctoral research in Creative Writing at the University of Liverpool. She is the winner of a Northern Writers Award for Poetry 2020. Find Jennifer on Twitter: @JenniferLeeTsai and Instagram: @jenniferleetsai