“Bilingual (Occasional)” by Chris Tse

Bilingual (Occasional) 
by Chris Tse

Re-learning a language with a rock 

               in my mouth—the slow back

.

and forth as I think in different

       lives—translation being a taste

.

of the oldest past, further back than

     what the first word can contain

.

insomuch as any singular, abandoned

         definition is a spark that makes it stick.

.

When, then? In a way it’s the rote that

       prevails, syllables in mutual repetition,

.

building blocks compressed into presence.

     Then, when a manner of speaking is the

.

fortuitous hook charged with getting me

       across the line, repeatedly, volley at

.

the net, I still find myself mumbling

              in English as I 拜山 at

.

my grandparents’ graves with well wishes

                 and requests for guidance.

.

One bow.
Two bows.
Three bows.

.

I only make do with patterns, the far

               reach and the distant hand closed

.

around what I can’t find the words for—

      far, closed, distant, shut—and so on

.

until I give up trying or someone stops listening

      and we go back to watching the news.

.

Four hours ahead in Aotearoa, I watch

       the past and the future unravel on television.

                                    ~

 

In Hong Kong the protests are the crack of a

    thousand umbrellas calling forth their own storm

.

and it’s clear the language of anger and revolt

      is the same wherever there is something

.

to protect. The protestors’ signs make it clear:

   Use Cantonese in Hong Kong.

.

My other tongue—the one used for ordering

     蝦餃 and asking about the weather—

.

my other tongue has a radical power!? In English,

     my name rhymes with peace, but in Chinese

.

it gives thanks. A revolution is the opposite of

      peace and thanks—it’s our pleasantries set alight.

.

The radical began with radicalisradix

      the roots, the basics. That our modern

.

uprisings are rooted in supposedly

          dead languages cannot be ignored by

.

lawmakers with gangs on speed dial or

      government officials who refuse to listen.

.

I hear every word in the world shift and so

                          I trade meaning for intent

.

wearing down the rock in my mouth

             coating each word with its hardness

.

until there is no longer a switch—just one swift

     movement, a brick cast in the middle of a protest.

.

I feel everything colliding 9,424km away in

     Wellington, where the storm can’t take my tongue.

.

.

How to cite: Tse, Chris. “Bilingual (Occasional).” Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, 18 Apr. 2021, hkprotesting.com/2021/04/18/bilingual-occasional/.

Chris Tse is the author of two poetry collections published by Auckland University Press, How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes (winner of Best First Book of Poetry at the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards) and HE’S SO MASC. He is co-editor of Out Here: An Anthology of Takatāpui and LGBTQIA+ Writers From Aotearoa, due to be published later this year. He lives in Wellington, New Zealand. Visit his website for more information.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: