Thursday, April 12, 2018

NaPoWriMo 2018 Day 11: Family Tree

Prompt: What does y(our) future provide? What is your future state of mind? If you are a citizen of the “union” that is your body, what is your future “state of the union” address?

This was another humdinger of a prompt. Write a poem about the future - how hard could that be? As it turns out, hard enough to consume the better part of several hours staring at a blank page, while researching and reading anything and everything in an attempt to find some inspiration. In the end, it was reading Kwoya Maples' interview and the excerpt from Mend that did it. Her thoughts about tracing heritage and stories set off a few brain-synapses about wanting to connect with my own immigrant roots as a Malaysian of Chinese ethnicity.

Even that didn't make the writing any easier, it was still more of hammer-and-anvil rather than  smooth calligraphy-flow. I'm not even sure any of it works, especially the transition between ancestry and seeds/trees, but at least it's OUT. (Maybe this is karma for all the easier prompts up to this point!)


I’m a union of immigrants, blood thinned by seawater, thickened by hope.
The New Land promised a future. My grandfather boarded the boat,
passage secured through a rickety fabrication of lies (his age) and truth (his intent),
     turned his back on Guangzhou, and dreamed of a better life
     his ties to China pulling, thinning with each mile towards Malaya
     until they finally snapped irreparably.

The names of my great-grandparents are an undisclosed diary locked away
     from prying eyes. My grandfather never spoke of them, even to his 
     children, preferring to bury his past in the hold of a dirty, crowded ship 
     bearing the dreams of a generation of Chinese immigrants in its sagging,
     over-weighted hull.
He taught himself to read and write, my father told us. I remember his writing:
     strong, angular strokes marking out each ideogram, the same strength in 
     his angular body as he watched his printing business burn to the ground,
     flames devouring the night, 
along with every scrap of his dreams. 
     We’ll rebuild, he said.
     He did.

I’m a union of warring states that might someday be at peace.
I’m a bloodline of violence, strands of music spiraling through my DNA.
My maternal grandfather killed a man to defend his family, fled China
     and came to Malaya to build a life. His first wife, my grandmother, was an 
     artist. A musician. She died before I was born, but something of song and 
     beauty filtered into her children’s blood, and so into mine. 

I am a tree, I am a family of trees, I am a forest. 

My hands are speckled with seeds, remnants from each union, past and present:
     A word, a breath, a cry, a song, dropping from my mouth into my palm
     falling through my fingers onto the soil of my days.  

I plant trees. Trees, strong and angular, standing tall like my grandfather,
     his roots sinking deep into the earth of his chosen home
     the sap of his dreams and hopes running up, up, up
     until it seeps into my leaf-veins, filters into my blood.
     Blood and sap. Thick. Inseparable.

In the future there are trees.
There will always be trees.


Jane Dougherty said...

Somebody wrote a poem full of seeds yesterday. There is lovely imagery in this. I can see the hold of that ship, your grandfather's angular strokes of the pen, building a new past and future, the trees. Good, strong writing.

Shuku said...

It must be a seedy sort of day! (Bad brain, bad pun, no biscuit.) Thank you so much. This was a worse struggle than yesterday; I'm so glad the imagery came through.

All right brain, when will you let me write that poem about Shifting Truths and Feelings?

Unknown said...

You are a genius! Struggle struggle. Yes, it's worth it!!

Shuku said...

Maria, thank you so much! I don't know about genius though...but oh lord, struggle struggle is right. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

grapeling said...

the first line is especially poignant and forte ~

Shannon Blood said...

Oh, this is the best bit, I think:

"I am a tree, I am a family of trees, I am a forest."

Ken Gierke / rivrvlogr said...

There's a lot of strength in this.

Anonymous said...

I agree with all the beautiful things the others have said. Your hard work certainly paid off! I've linked to this poem in my post today, and mentioned a few others that I instantly loved as well:

I hope it brings you some new readers, your poetry certainly deserves it.

Shuku said...

Oh my goodness! Thank you SO much! I am glad you enjoyed reading the poems - I really love yours too, they always make me think, in good ways!

Shuku said...

Ken, Shannon and Grapeling, thank you so much! Strength and trees and journeys - kept sitting in my brain til I had to link them soooomehow. I'm glad it worked!

Kerfe Roig said...

This is a beautiful summary of the strands that create and bind us. And we are constantly adding our own threads.

Shuku said...

Thank you so much Kerfe! Yes, we do add our own threads to the things that create and bind us, even if we don't think about it. This prompt, as difficult as it was, got me thinking about it and exploring what identity is and how heritage shapes us. It's something I do want to explore more, in future.