Grace V.S. Chin

Grace V. S. Chin, a former Malaysian journalist, holds a PhD in English Literature from the University of Hong Kong. She currently teaches English Literature and Drama Studies at the University of Brunei Darussalam. Her poems have been published in Hong Kong U Writing: An Anthology, Sweat & The City: Stories and Poems from the Hong Kong Workplace, and Cha: An Asian Literary Journal.




In History class, I sat with my eyes
closed, listening, to the drone
of the teacher’s voice, each word
losing its way in the drowsy
afternoon heat. A fu-
fuzzy-faced boy entered
my daymare, his disjointed arms
reached out, jarring me
into wakefulness. 

“Why,” he asked
in plaintive tones,
“you cannot speak
Mandarin-ah? It’s your
Mother Tongue.” 

Groggy and stunned, I groped
in wavering Cantonese, voice strained
with explanations, syllables leaking
with every translated English word. 

do I describe
my patchwork
self? I speak
Cantonese at
home, dream,
think and talk
with friends, learn
to read
and write Malay
at school. 

do I  sift      
these jumbled-up
tongues, as delicious
as rojak, separate one
from the other, and you lose
their precious taste. 

That afternoon, his question rang
in my head, and only the branch                                           
the window pane outside
spoke for me.


Conversations with my dead mother

Conversations with my dead mother are rare
I should think
but she keeps coming to me
when I am quiet and pliant
in my sleep. It’s not fair,
I cry, hearing the slush
of heavy water in my bones.  

“You don’t eat enough,” she declares
each time we meet. As if stuffing face
would help ease my pangs, or take away
the silted memories. She sits
with legs crossed on the kitchen
stove, a fat female Buddha
with Mona Lisa’s smile, grandly waving
her spatula like a wand, granting me wishes
that never came true for her. 

She spent her life here,
boiling black bittersweet
medicinal herbs to chase away
our childhood demons, cooking 
all day long in her big black
steel wok, a thousand aromas hung
in the air, each defining her
in ways we never knew — her
longbeans stir fried in belachan,
chicken braised in soya sauce
and chopped red chilis, nasi lemak,
onde onde, pandan chiffon cakes,
curry chicken, square tofu topped
with minced pork — while little brother
and I played on the table, hands deep
in floury dough as she chopped
her way into our stomachs
and hearts, and scrubbed
her wok until fingers were raw
and wrinkled. She aged
before our eyes but we
did not know it, shutting
our eyes and ears to the smashing
of glasses thrown onto walls, the yelling
for us to leave her alone, the crying
when father failed
to come home, the crashing
of her body on the floor. 

All at once, I am
my mother’s daughter again,
chopper in hand, dicing small,
red onions at the sink, eyes blinded
by the sting of tears, they fall, one
after the other, flowing
like unspoken words
into the sinkhole.