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.

 

the river

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

a sigh

and stretches

to follow every footstep, every turn, every twisting alleyway

to swallow every sacrifice our mothers made

every blow our fathers struck, every

drop

that ever fell

from slanted eyes spilling over

withjoy or sorrow

it is in this thirsty, salty river

that forgotten names are born

Kai Cheng

                  XiaoMei

                                 Ei Lien

                                            BicLein

                                                         Yeet Jin

                                                                       Yao On

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

to return                                                                                                 

OiLein  

             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

Kai Cheng

                   XiaoMei

                                   Ei Lien

                                              BicLein

                                                         Yeet Jin

                                                                        Yao On

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

so musical

                             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,

 

 

no classes

no genders

no nations,

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.

OiLein  

               Ah Keem                                          Kai Cheng

                                               Xiao Mei   

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

Ah Keem

                        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

and whisper

the revolution’s come, the revolution’s come

i’ve saved you, you’re free

Xiao Mei

                                                     Ei Lien

                                                                      BicLein

                                                                                         Yeet Jin

                                                                                                          Yao On

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.

Kai Cheng

                                              XiaoMei

                                                               Ei Lien

                                                                             BicLein

                                                                                            Yeet Jin

                                                                                                           Yao On

 

 

 

Response Poem by Cindy McBride

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

1842 – Opium War
1900 The Allied Troops entered Peking —-
No, I am going back to 1842—–The Treaty of Nanking
1842 David Sassoon and his clan together with the Queen Victoria’s approved East Indian Trading Company brought Opium
from Bengal to China.

The American Clippers enabled them to bring them faster:

The whole Chinese Empire were addicted to these black balls that promised longevity and long life,
Smoke these opium and you will forget that we castrated your empire.
Smoke these opium and you will forget that you have parents to look after, children to feed,
smoke these opium you will forget who you are.
You were a free woman,
You were the one who held up the sky,
and used your hair to cover the empty mountains tops,
Smoke the opium and you will forget you have a home, Instead you become the indentured labourer i.e. the slave to the merchant bankers & the moneyed who speculate on human miseries.
Your empire, your people, your mothers, your fathers, your daughters and your sons…
Smoke the opium, you have become the slaves all over the world,
Chinatowns popped up every inch of the then underdeveloped,
unrailwayed,
unchainmanned towns and cities,
There were no Peru,
No Surinam,
No Brazil,
No Canada,
No America..
Smoke the opium, you are blowing up the caves, blowing up yourselves,
in the process when didn’t remember who you were.
smoke the opium, because you will need it!!!