My grandmother, education foreshortened
first by tradition, then by war,
developed a syncretic vocabulary,
the linchpin that bridged her to a nation
amnesiac to dialects.
Don’t be matured, she would say,
in the ultima that rises taut,
sharpened into a warning.
She wanted us to remain girls
for as long as biology would allow.
Maturity meant being fast,
doors of innocence once exited
to which one could not return.
She demanded silence,
dismissed us to a corner
with a book or a toy,
warned us against being
a havoc girl next time,
expending our youth on men
or deep nights of discos.
Curiosity in a lipstick’s pink accordion
or the metrical beat of high heels
meant we were scolded sexy,
something we should never be.
Synthesized from people,
she owned a private lexicon
the dictionary could not match.
My favourite senselessness
of it was hitam manis,
her convincing me even if dark and swarthy,
I was still loved.
~ Joey Chin
Joey Chin is currently pursuing her Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing (Poetry) at the City University of Hong Kong, the first writing programme of its kind with an emphasis on Asian diasporic writing. She is also interested in language and etymology.