Editor’s Note: This poem was first performed by Malaysian poet, Nuan Ning at the International University of Malaya-Wales Slam Off on October 16, 2019 where the 14-year-old emerged as a runner-up. It was such a delightful piece that we obtained Nuan Ning’s permission to post it here for you to enjoy.

 


 

Traditions are the sons of daughters of culture

I am the daughter of two cultures. My father, and

his swirling teo chew, whispering to us at the

crack of dawn, lulling us out of bed to have dim sum

 

across the street. My mother, with clicking Hokkien

laced into her lips, spinning around our ears at every

birthday party, and dinner celebration. I’m growing up

in a tapestry of conflicting colours.

 

And in Butterworth, on the street with sandy roads and

too many bicycle accidents, in the house that smells like

burning incense, we stayed up past midnight, rolling

tang yuan into the new year, Slid red packets

 

under our pillowcases for luck and ate dim sum

as the new year peeks over the horizon. We haggled

at the wet market, and promoted my grandmother’s stall

with its stacks of corn and yams and sweet potatoes

 

And we left all of this behind. Left it in the wet markets,

buried under layers of pink and orange plastic bags,

with the yelling in teochew, and the smell of raw fish

seeping into my hair. We tried to leave it all behind.

 

Once when I was still young, we brought the traditions

home with us, strapped it to the top of our old Toyota,

the voices of my grandparents rattling the metal rooftop

as we cruised down open highways.

 

And in Selangor, on the street with too many cars and

cement tiles cracking under the glare of the sun,

we stayed still. When the full moons rolled their way

across the evening sky and tainted our lunar calendars

 

with celebrations, we stayed still. When fireworks crackled

and our grandparents burned gold and red paper into sizzling flames

we pulled out the barbecue. Ate mooncakes to rock music

instead of Teresa Teng. Played tag under the watch of the stars,

 

glittering as the winter solstice pirouettes above them.

When the sun sets and a new animal of the lunar calendar

slides up to take its place we eat ice cream. Marvel in the

taste of chocolate gelato when back in Butterworth

 

we would be singing prayers and watching vegetables

boil in a pot of hot water; maybe this is how we’ve

grown into. Maybe our traditions are no longer bound

by the smoke slithering off thin joysticks into the air, maybe

we’re writing our own stories. Throwing pop pops at each other,

 

small bursts of colourful fireworks exploding at our feet.

Maybe we are learning. And in my home, where the roads

are littered with small strips of coloured paper where the

pop pops exploded and my pants are coated with dust

from my neighbours’ street-long fireworks chain,

 

I press my palms against each other,

and say a prayer for the sancity of my traditions

in my mother tongue.

*** Cover art by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash.

We’re looking for more short stories, poems and essays. If you’ve got some and aren’t shy to share it with the world, please drop us an email at editors@eksentrika.com. Oh, do read our Submission Guidelines first. Here’s another poem you might enjoy. 

POETRY | Mother’s Cooking by Nuan Ning

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