On Thursday April 27, we were visited by author Kai Cheng Thom, who read from her new poetry collection a place called No Homeland. One of the poems Kai read was “the river.” This poem alone generated a lot of writing and passionate discussion.
Below is “the river”, as well as response poems written by Thursdays’ writers.
someone told me once
that a secret river flows
under every street
in every chinatown in every city
in the world. and this river speaks
in a secret language that sounds like
to follow every footstep, every turn, every twisting alleyway
to swallow every sacrifice our mothers made
every blow our fathers struck, every
that ever fell
from slanted eyes spilling over
withjoy or sorrow
it is in this thirsty, salty river
that forgotten names are born
shadows without bodies, words without tongues
these names swirl in the river of sighs, whispering
thesecrets of their meanings as they wait for the nameless
Ah Keem Kai Cheng
Xiao Mei Yao On
beneath the motor-rumble roar of vancouver’s cityscape
i can hear the shushing of a river
it stretches across the sea
it reaches across the years
it slithers into the Cantonese restaurant where i am sitting
and suddenly i am drowing in
smells tastes memories cravings
for places i don’t remember
and dishes i never liked
stories i didn’t understand
relatives i never loved
the waitress comes to take my order
but all the chinese words have been crowded out by longing
and i am forced to point to pictures on the menu instead
ears burning with embarrassment
and full of the river’s laughter
dancing to the drumbeat pulse of amateur DJs in montreal’s nightscape,
i am swinging sweaty hips
and licking the salt off my lips in the arms of a stranger
who tells me that he loves the sound of chinese
a beautiful language, for a beautiful people
nihao, he says lei haileng jai
and i smile,
and say, i’d like a tequila sunrise, please
and because he buys me one, i let him kiss me his lips taste like cinnamon
he asks me
what’s your name?
and i tell him
he says, no, i mean your real name. your Chinese name
and suddenly the walls of this nightclub fortress,
this place where desire grows like something forbidden,
begin to crumble,
the foundations of this queer-love-island-in-the-dark
begin to shake, and i can hear the sound of history
crashing down like a current
bearing down like a flood
sweeping down like a hurricane
i lost my name to the river,
i lost my memory to dreams,
i cannot sleep for dreaming,
i dream live body geographies, nations
sculpted from the permeable borders of skin
wet warm earth-colored wombs that swell
and rise and tremble with the moon
to give birth to babies connected by blue-river veins of memory
my blond white lover tells me that the revolution
will begin in New York he says
that when the revolution comes there will be no colors,
my lover tells me that when the revolution comes, he will hold me
and our kisses will undo every blow ever struck,
will turn back every sacrifice we ever made,
erase every scar i have ever borne,
and replenish all the soil we have ever drained of life
my lover tells me
that when the revolution comes, we will make love as the towers burn
and all the empty spaces in me my body my spirit will be filled.
Ah Keem Kai Cheng
darling, when your revolution comes, i will not be here,
when the towers start to burn, i will be the first to die,
when the bombs start to fall, my love, i will go down to the river
i will wait for you in the river
where the names of my forefathers and foremothers were born,
where the bodies of the forgotten float
Oi Lien Yao On
and when you tire of watching the explosions
perhaps you will come to me then, my darling
perhaps you will make love to me
to my closed eyes to my still limbs
perhaps you will fill my empty spaces with your anger
your longing your lust
the revolution’s come, the revolution’s come
i’ve saved you, you’re free
someone told me once that a secret river flows through every ribcage
of every colored person who’s ever been lost. and this river speaks
in a secret language that sounds like a sigh. the river remembers
everything that we’ve ever forgotten, ever footstep, every turn
every twisting alleyway, every blow our mothers struck, every sacrifice
our fathers made. and this river waits for us to return to it, waits for us
to return to ourselves,
to kneel at the bank of the forgotten stream
of our bloodlines, where all our forgotten names
are waiting to be born.
Response Poem by Cindy McBride
What’s Underneath Us That We Aren’t Seeing?
When I was sick one time I was waiting for a hospital bed in the hallway on a gurney. I was handcuffed to the gurney and we were in a hallway in a tunnel under the hospital. People of all sorts were going past me. From the right and to the left, doctors, nurses, attendants, service men, police officers, fire fighters, mixed in with people off the street.
As usual I had to take a pee but I had to wait. I was handcuffed to the gurney. I was minding my own business when someone went past and as he passed he had a sort of a sling shot that shot a pin in and out of my leg. Boy did it sting and the infection spread immediately. Now all I could think of was my leg. Hours went by and I finally got to the PAU, Psychiatric Assessment Unit. Finally medication, a bathroom and sandwiches!
Response Poem by Wei-ting
River of opium blues 1842
The American Clippers enabled them to bring them faster:
Today author and performer Kai Cheng Thom visited us to read from her new book a place called No Homeland.
Her extraordinary poetry collection is a vivid, beautifully wrought journey to the place where forgotten ancestors live and monstrous women roam―and where the distinctions between body, land, and language are lost. In these fierce yet tender narrative poems, Kai Cheng Thom draws equally from memory and mythology to create new maps of gender, race, sexuality, and violence. In the world of a place called No Homeland, the bodies of the marginalized―queer and transgender communities, survivors of abuse and assault, and children of diaspora―are celebrated, survival songs are sung, and the ancestors offer you forgiveness for not remembering their names.
Descended from the traditions of oral storytelling, spoken word, and queer punk poetry, Kai Cheng Thom’s debut collection is evocative and unforgettable.
I dream warm, wet
That rise and tremble and swell with the moon
To give birth to babies connected
By blue-river veins of memory
The writing exercises that followed where inspired by Kai Cheng Thom’s work. Together we wrote, shared and honoured a place called No Homeland.
***If anyone has response poems they want to share, email amberdawn@thursdayswritingcollective OR bring a paper copy to the next Thursdays writing class. Response poems will be published on here Thursday’s website and Facebook page***
On February 22, CiTR joined the 2017 NCRA Homelessness Marathon with a live broadcast from Megaphone Magazine, featuring interviews with vendors about the issues surrounding homelessness, poverty, and housing in Vancouver.
The podcast, including a heartfelt interview with Thursdays writer James Witwicky, is now available here: //www.podcat.com/podcasts/u4lien-citr-special-events/episodes/3fcj4d-2017-homelessness-marathon-at-megaphone-magazine
On Thursday March 9, we visited the What Remains Exhibition at Gallery Gachet. This was part of an ongoing series where we write in art galleries. Here is part one of our collaged poetic response to the exhibition.
A beautiful design of fabric. She has so many faces, designed with shame, designed with thoughts,
all humanly desires wondering where they would end up.
1600 I myself, John William Gladstone. To build the world’s greatest empire together, with the bankers, where the sun never sets. Amen.
Anyone can be an empathy, they said. Beautiful creatures, the ones I love, on parallel lines. Here we go. Meet me in infinity!
Why are we born with ten fingers and ten toes? So we make more that ten friends, and have more than ten writerly friends, and from writing we can stretch and stretch into the universe of love of writing.
Only her breath like the sea, washing, watching, eating at the shoreline that was there. The current travels in circles too.
Darkness in my ears shuts the sounding sight. Life there is not. Thirty years of solitude-
Don’t talk to me of families not the nuclear kind who have three reasons not to mind what happens to me. Poor, crazy, poet, something like two-spirited, convenient to ignore . . .
We are the world, we are the people, we are firm, defined like a church steeple.
Learning is triumph over failure. And I have a question.
Do we learn who we are over the past failures? Do we learn who to love
over the past failures? Do we choose the right community over the past failures?
Stitch up pieces torn walking through the day.
I am the family loser, the Asperger freak, the one who can’t even get my life together with full time work.
I thank all the mighty mothers who murmur sequences and weave the alphabet of being acgtatcg in every one of my surging cells embedded and reincarnated in my mitochondria.
A rolling wave of deep brown sugar rises beneath her skin, growing strong by the ties that bind. The question I leave you with today is why was the universe created in the first place.
We move through darkling sound; we whisper in scintillating light. Each different all the same made from internal sight and sound.
I started when I was three. When I was bored enough to let my 84-year-old neighbour know I mattered. I would walk next door and stare at his gate and say, “You’re a useless old man and when I throw a rock at your home, your house will come down on you.” He’d be so mad he’d chase me around and needless to say I wasn’t bored anymore.
Where’s the border? Where’re the lines that mark boundaries between self, family, community, world? All in flux, cycles in flux. All that appears constant melts into background. Empties with every breath. Figure- field moment. Every circle every cycle.
In the layers of skin, I do return. From the past I lived to come into the now, covering up pains with pleasures, stitching the skin, painting mediums in you, creating layers deep.
At some point you were left alone to decide who you are? Who you are family. It took me sixty years to find where this nappy hair came from.
It is called personalized medicine. With bipolar disorder it remains depersonalized medicine.
Parcels wrapped in seed.
Afuwa was born in Guyana, on Karinya and Akawaio lands; she lives and makes art on Tsleil-Waututh, Musqueam, Squamish, and Coast Salish territories. She was the 2013 Visiting Artist at UBC’s Liu Institute for Global Issues, and is an active member of Gallery Gachet and Dance Troupe Practice collectives.
This book has already inspired and informed us tremendously. Thus far, some of our favourites from the anthology are: George Elliott Clarke’s “King Bee Blues” (pg 44), Kuldip Gill’s “Ghazal V (pg 81) and Fred Wah’s “Mother/Father Haibun # 5 (pg 107).
The Thursday’s Writing Collective is pleased to announce We Widen Life’s Margins: a mid-season chapbook. Edited by Amber Dawn, Curtis AuCoin, and Cara B.
Cover Art by Karenza T. Wall
Printed by East Van Graphics.
With wonderful support from the Simon Fraser Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies. And special thanks to Carnegie Community Centre.
We live, write, and create on the unceded territories of the Coast Salish Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples.
We Widen Life’s Margins is our anthology of prose, poetry, memoir, and amazingness. These works are without theme, but bring together the myriad voices that represent, flourish, and develop at Thursdays. Much of this book comes from our writing prompts where we create collectively and share without intimidation or prejudice. The importance lies on giving each voice a space for their boundless creativity and with little editing done, these pieces show how writing freely leads to unimagined and wonderful possibilities.