These days I mark time in haircuts.
Just three weeks and it
starts to form tufts between my fingers.
I have them go as as near to the scalp
as keeps my head black.
I watch the the shears skim locks
like fat off broth,
the tiles dappling dark.
I pay four dollars more than
what it’d cost a man.
Cheap for what it’s worth.
It’s perplexing, this worry
so fresh and exact
( no one’s ever tried to grab me by the )
but I have this fear.
I cut my hair.
shanghai is hungry for babies
the city grey under grey
white hairs, concrete, glass and fog
everyone’s talking about the pm2.5
everyone is old and getting older
my paternal-older-girlcousin’s mother-in-law
(even chinese doesn’t have one word for that)
gives us red pocket money even though
we’re 25 and 30. the australian government
gives two-year visas now, so they can visit
while fit to travel but she worries
they’re the dutiful parents
of the one-child generation
for the one after that
my obstetrician grandma
reminisces about my birth
i don’t know if she’ll ever
shanghai is hungry for babies
and i’m another barren daughter
another loose end
and end of the line
i don’t change my name for marriage
but i’ll change it for almost
i come home with more words
for a city cluttered with language
keen to hear a small
a four-page form, two passport photos,
a letter of invitation, photocopies of
my grandparents’ residency cards & 120 AUD
for a 10 day visa despite three stamps
in my five-year-old passport
and the birthplace:
mum handles my application, the ordeal
familiar through her twice-yearly
returns, she knows to write
___ under “former name”
not “Chinese name”
her writing is script,
mine like drawing
what’s the point of home if you need an invitation
i think to myself
well, we’re not Palestinian
in English they call the country
the same as what they call us
in Australia i’ve been so many places
without an invitation
and i’m not sure
i’m going home
toufa jian guo [you’ve cut your hair]
zeli xie zhongwen mingzi. [write your Chinese name here]
i hand back the arrival card,
apologetic, uncertain of every stroke,
i’d put my occupation as “writer”.
the flight attendant says (in chinese)
you have such pretty eyes
to the eurasian toddler in the front row
i remember the chemist
taking my passport photo
saying (in english)
what lovely big eyes you have
i can’t remember
did he say
for a chinese girl?
ten and a half hours
from my hometown to my birthplace
i start crying as soon as we lift off the earth
the woman across the aisle vomits as we land
we’re both travel-sick
— Dr Julian Lee speaking to Lia Incognita for Queering the Air’s two-hour “gaysian” spectacular on 3CR Community Radio.
Part 1 focuses on LGBT Asia and features Benjamin Law and Dr Julian Lee; Part 2 focuses on Asian-Australian queer communities and features a huge cast of queer Asian-Australian writers, artists, media makers and community organisers. Free download here.
On Saturday I made my debut at the Doris Leadbetter Poetry Cup. The first round saw 40 poets try to shine in under 60 seconds each, and then 10 poets were selected for the second round, with a 2-minute time limit. The winner was Kerry Loughrey, who also took the cup in 2011, and I came second place!
It’s been a while since my last slam and some years since my last appearance at a “mainstream” poetry event (ie, not a specifically queer, feminist or anti-racist event) so I was really thrilled to place and it was lovely to see a few old faces and lots of new ones. I felt like the Cup was much more diverse than events I’ve attend in the past, in terms of the themes, style and delivery of the words as well as the ages, ethnicities, genders and backgrounds of the poets. Obviously I was happy with my result, but also I felt the judges didn’t favour a particular style in their selections as the shortlist was very varied, which is a real accomplishment in judging as often you hear complaints that there’s a bias for or against humour, or dense metaphors, or hip-hop and def styles, or storytelling, or whatever else.
Anyway, you can read Kerry’s winning poems here and mine here. In Round 1, I did ‘Chinky’, an old piece that clocks in at under 40 seconds. I worried that it was too simple and rhymed too much but I chose it because I knew I could perform it confidently by memory and wouldn’t have to worry about going overtime. The second piece was a new one, ‘Noli me tangere’. It’s a response to a 16th C poem by Thomas Wyatt. The Latin means ‘touch me not’.
You’re asleep and magnificent.
Haughty, lovely, angry. All brow
and pout. You’re steaming.
Your nostrils flare, your whiskers bristle.
I wonder if you’re dreaming revenge,
or triumph -
I wonder if you’re dreaming of me
on all fours,
skittish and prone to stray,
tossing my hindquarters
under the sizzling brand
so my hide is smeared with
your mark. Noli me tangere.
Caesar’s I am.
I touch you gingerly.
But not like ginger at all.
Once I was ginger:
sweet, hot and tough.
Now I soothe your scratched throat
after sharp words. I open my mouth
and you fill it with something
that is not sound.
Now I am a cup of milk.
You lap at me with a broad tongue,
drink me up without opening your eyes.
Finally I am pale and soft,
a pearl without the stone, lustre
without form, light on the water.
I give kingdoms to be your girl.
I give voice & everything underwater
& all the mermaids I have known.
I give tears enough for a sea again.
Caesar’s I am.
Not tame, and not wild.
Practised and sure.
Cautious and free.
Noli me tangere. Caesar’s I am.