These poems about family were originally posted on the AsianVoices Website (1997-2004), a site I created that featured poetry and fiction by young Asian writers. I’m now in the process of uploading an archived version of the works that had been published.
Grieving Cherry Blossom
Although I’m hurting I care,
Yet still—I’m hollow.
I can’t stand on my legs
I feel weak.
The way she looked and the way she became
Makes me cry silent tears.
My eyes are dry but my heart carries a load.
The past, the present and tomorrow’s hurt.
The sorrow is great
Being all around me,
Above me, beneath me and within me.
My tears are my fashion statement,
When I walk and sit, talk and think.
They are the gems of my eyes
And the stabbing pain of my grief.
I try to reach that zone of comfort and lasting survival.
The way my family used to be was a life I can imagine.
The way we’ve become, invisible.
The way we should’ve been, unknowing.
Sharing tears in the morning but soundless at night.
That is where we dream our anguishes beyond;
Far from the reaches of our own hands.
Never speaking a word or flinching.
Laying in bed still, dreaming, inclining to a greater misery.
The earth proclaimed the day
And the sky partook in our wailing.
Neglecting what I heard and what I saw.
There are no exact words that can tell.
The feelings are full and the words are silent.
Tick! Tock! Tick! Tock!
Time runs and brings along someone.
Wrinkling the skin and weakening the knee.
The lady that died in that hospital bed, died full of strong will.
Time and earth proclaimed.
But her spirit soared higher than the fascination of the pretty pink flowers
of a cherry blossom tree on a clear Spring day.
~Ma. Elyza Caliolio (The Philippines, USA)
Behind the Glass
Your hair is too neat, lips too pale.
Your smile still clings to your face.
Your hands gently folded on your bosom.
You are a flawless doll, unreachable behind the glass.
You are too young to sleep alone in the dark.
You left too fast without a good-bye.
You reached your destiny too early.
You are at one with eternity.
My hair is moist, lips shivering.
My sorrow still strikes my heart.
My fingers quiver in my freezing fist.
I am a tranquil puppet, noticeable in the glass.
I am too old to live with only my anguish.
I was disillusioned too slowly with my survival.
I remembered your departure too late.
I am at one with the earth.
Who’s the face on the glass with those tears still wet?
Who’s the face behind the glass with those charms still enchanting?
Who is still puzzled by the coming days alone?
Who no longer feels the pain and grief?
Whose body is in earth?
Whose heart is in earth?
Dry tears, silent screams, numbed mourning, lost memory,
All are locked behind the glass,
From now till then.
~Carrie Chan (Hong Kong)
Rest in Peace
Around the street, the home and the heart,
Where I walk, which I see and what I feel
Have created in me joys and sorrows.
In the same space, the same time with the same eyes
Your voice, your smile with your tears
Have become all feelings of mine.
A single moon blues the room.
The uncovered eyes lie
Under the grey ceiling.
Every colourless dream it sees
With the long silence
Sung from the dressing table
~Chor Yiu-ching (Hong Kong)
Falling into a dark, fathomless cave
sightless and freezing, screams
echo a thousand times as if there were
a thousand of me.
Failing to feel with numb fingers
helpless for none was there, waiting
to reach out with a grip that would
Forgetting the preceding future, remaining
motionless and calm, accepting
the incarnation of mortality, I relinquish
the present form of me.
Foreseeing without anticipation, in the aftermath of
doubtless disaster, sleeping
to dream the inconceivable
~Vivian Chiang (Hong Kong)
A Child’s Sandal
In the early morning,
walking to the bus,
I see a yellow sandal
hanging on the end
of a branch of a tree
in the green ravine,
a size so small it has to be
for a child of two or three.
How did it get there?
Someone picked it up
from a rubbish dump?
Too cute to leave behind?
Was the mother carrying
so much she did not know
the child had dropped
a sandal? Or was it thrown
through a window from a home
in the block nearby? If so, why?
Were there adults quarrelling,
a child crying at the door?
Did the man have a mistress
and the wife wish to kill
herself? Was it just
the sandal that was flung?
Where is the child now?
Does it have shoes to wear
~Agnes Lam (Hong Kong)
The poem was written at Victoria Road on 3 November 1998 in the wake of news of a woman who threw her children from a building before jumping down herself.
I read your obituary
I read your obituary
In the alumni magazine
For all these years we have parted
Since you left this place
Where we spent our younger days
Where our naïve dreams lay
I was searching for news
Something about you
In a distant land
Oh what a shock
The news came
It was your death
Could it be wrong?
But there printed
Hard and cold
Your year of graduation
Death is cruel
Such blooming life he captured
I didn’t even know
Until this day
I couldn’t make it in time
To say the last goodbye
You were gone
Severed from us
Without a word
The camping night
The make-believe guitar playing
Your gentle words
Your considerate acts
Came back all together
All but lost
~by Zita Wong (Hong Kong)
I fasten my keiko-gi and mae-himo,
tied in a bow at the back.
Hearbeats pass through
A shiny shadow reflected on
the still grey ground…
Red petals fall,
A hard cold thing merges with
soft warm thing.
~by Kevin Ling Kin-man (Hong Kong)
It is with the deepest sorrow that I am writing to you.
A call received,
A favour asked,
“Did you read the paper today?
So you know what happened?
That was at one of ours.
We need a condolence letter.
Can you fax it within the hour?”
I remember the first time I learned about death—human death, anyways, God knows we went through pets pretty fast in those days—a couple of dogs, a cat, a bird, the maritime disaster in the aqaurium—but with people,,,well let’s put it this way: when you’re flushing a dead fish down the toilet you don’t normally think ‘there but for the grace of God go I’. But with a person. “You may have noticed someone isn’t here today. I’m afraid I have to announce that Scott was killed in a car crash on Saturday.” I’d just been talking to him the Friday before—probably the only conversation we had ever really had. We were just walking together after school, carrying our adidas bags, talking about nothing in particular. He stopped for the bus. I kept on walking. What if we hadn’t talked or if we had talked a little longer, just another few seconds? Wouldn’t that have been enough to throw his whole life (and death) off schedule?
It is with the deepest sorrow that I am writing to you to express my condolences to you and your loved ones
His wife will arrive in the afternoon to claim the body.
Leaving four children in Pakistan
To await her return.
The beginning is always the easiest part
Of a letter,
Of a life.
But after that there are choices,
I can’t type another word.
What is there to say to a woman I don’t know
About a man I never knew
And never will?
So I look to the right.
Stuck on the office wall
A JPEG image, printed out
Each pixel a single square of solid colour.
the squares together form
Of two children.
A wild girl with stickers of blue and gold stars covering her eyes
Holding her little brother,
His hair coiling down to his shoulders in a mane of ringlets
It is with the deepest sorrow that I am writing to you to express my condolences to you and your loved ones on the tragic death in the line of duty
What was he thinking
With the shotgun raised
His finger at the trigger?
Why did he hesitate?
I phone home
The starry-eyed girl is at kindergarten
The curly-haired boy answers
Electrons coursing down a wire,
A stream of numbers,
Each a one or a zero,
But the numbers together forming
I listen for a while
To the flow of his voice.
It is with the deepest sorrow that I am writing to you to express my condolences to you and your loved ones on the tragic death in the line of duty of your husband, Zafar Iqbal Khan.
What will become of this letter?
Will it be torn up?
Will it lie untouched at the bottom of a box,
Will it be kept pristine in an envelope in a folder in a drawer
To be brought out when the moment is right
The folds on the page becoming sharper each time
As the words rewrite themselves.
A letter to a widow.
Nothing to it.
Nothing that hasn’t already been done a million times before.
He had been married to a friend
She lost her husband one last time
While her son regained a father.
A riddle it’s best not to ponder.
I didn’t know what to say
Other than “I’m sorry to hear”
I didn’t know him well.
Saw him sometimes in the gym
He looked fit.
But survival of the fittest deals in averages.
Grief deals in specifics,
Each death leaving its own empty spaces.
Is there comfort in knowing his wife and children will cope
It is with the deepest sorrow that I am writing to you to express my condolences to you and your loved ones on the tragic death in the line of duty of your husband, Zafar Iqbal Khan. His selfless bravery, his immense respect for life and his desire to protect the innocent are an inspiration to all of us. Our prayers go out to you and your children.
Then there was that time about a year later—the summer between Grades 11 and 12. Sheer stupidity. I was cycling. To get my mind off something, not just any something, but finding out my girlfriend at the time had been with another guy. So I’m going down Walkey and I turn onto Heron and just go cruising though the stop sign without thinking once let alone twice and right into the path of a Blueline taxi. Black Lincoln Continental. I don’t know whether I saw it first or heard it—the squealing tires. I went up over the hood, my back shattering the windscreen. As I’m flying through the air, all I can think is “oh shit”, not very poetic I know, but probably pretty common last words all the same. I blacked out for a moment, but came to and saw the sky falling away beneath my feet, giving me enough time to break my fall with an arm. If I had opened my eyes a second later…?
All it takes is that second
For an accident
For a skull to be smashed
For a heart to cease beating
For a trigger to be pulled
A good man has gone
But his ghost remains.
Somewhere in the pixels that form the starry-eyed girl
Somewhere in the electrons that pulse down the wire from the curly-haired boy.
Somewhere in the code of all things.
Our prayers go out to you and your children. We pray that his soul is at peace and that his courage will be rewarded in heaven as it will be remembered here on earth. We pray that as his children grow up, they will always carry with them the knowledge that their father was a great man who revered life. And we pray that they will inherit his bravery and his dignity.
It is with the deepest sorrow that I am writing to you
It is with the deepest sorrow that I am writing to you
This poem is about real events (‘Ghost writing’ is when you write on behalf of a person who is then assumed to be the author).
May not the
Element of space
Rise against me
In acrid acrimony.
From the north
Arrives green goddess
Ghanta of serpent head
Garlanded with skulls
And in her hand
Holding metallic bells
Sounds in surges
Deafening eared knell.
Let me remember
The past deeds
For all the things
Great and small
For all the creeds.
For the white dove
For the yellow bear
For fields of worms
For earth borne cares.
Let not the
Element of sun
Arise against me
In wandering thirst
Or burning symptoms.
Yogins arise westward
Bringing seeds of wisdom
With wavering of garlands
Four coloured lights
And the scents
Moulded from purified elements.
All prevailing circles
Let not the element
Of the earth
Arise against me.
In splintered segments.
~Durlabh Singh (England)
Bardo means ‘between two’. According to Tibetan Bhuddhist beliefs, the bardo is an intermediate stage between death and rebirth. But the bardo can also refer to intermediate stages between consciousness and dreams.
Artist on Show
He’s clinically alive, the doctor said.
I press in closer, touch the panelled glass,
Watch his glassy eyes stare, hard face set.
It comes to me, while seeing him in bed,
Shut in his ward, he needed no palette,
No dyes, no clay to make a showpiece vase.
His blood bag bobs. Some sudden pull of arm
Perhaps? A draught replies.
He does not budge.
The chart of progress hung upon the wall,
Almost toplit, retains a certain charm,
While doctors’ pickled papers revealing all
Except a fading wish and living grudge
Extol to all their interest in him.
A crumpled bedsheet stiff with him still mocks
His skilful hand and thoughtful mind on show,
Bereft of craft: atrophied, not thin-limbed,
Departed, not alive. And as I go,
I chuck a coin into his trust-fund box.
~Toh Hsien Min (Singapore)
It should have rained, being the north-east, Perhaps it did.
I may have sought shelter walking that gently sloping road to the half-sheared land
On which I had divined I’d show my face my heart.
I was a stranger, yet I knew the place, and knew it was not far
Past shop and school and old-age bungalow,
Double-glazed, cozy, with floral summer seats and cushioned cats.
And arrival shied my grief into remembrance of the passed,
Still and gone: black hair arranged around cold features,
Ivory white fussily-draped gown – shroud seems wrong somehow
This is not at all a living body, what I had known elsewhere.
The best room full of aunts, in black, in charge.
Men drinking whisky like Christmas cheer. Flowers
On the tumble drier, in the bath, in her hair…
And Mother, We so loved your performance in the show,
Beautiful singing, beautiful. You look taller on stage.
The sister, small, squatting on the stool, scrutinising the mock logs
Of the gas fire. Brother’s a man in mourning.
Throughout, the understated faith; tolling of rosaries relegated to a bedroom
Priest Uncle giving kindness in large hands, God’s representative.
But no-one thought to blame him.
I must take the gently sloping way, past school, shop and bungalow
To church, where there will be friends front and right,
A stranger, late-arrived, at my left hand.
I will swallow my convulsive sobs until the singing,
Always the singing gets to my soul and wrings it dry,
Folk and congregation communing, faltering
At each verse end, finding their gut on their tongues
Hoarsing the mighty melodies.
Peter will take the bread of belonging; the simple lesson will be read
By accented lips in a balding head. And the sermon,
The sermon will look back and forward and up into the heavens,
But not down onto the here and now, these faces.
There in the voice is a message, from Isaiah perhaps:
‘Untarnished life, that is ripe old age’.
And at such times as these,
My friend remembers me,
And the wonder of that day
Sings to me sighing.
~Neil Drave (Hong Kong)
A short story by Maria Riaz Hamdani about the intertwined lives of man and nature.
“Oh earth! Take me away from this zone of night and darkness to that of light and brightness”.
I say this to earth, which is travelling and revolving in its orbit around the sun. I am waiting anxiously for tomorrow to come, though I know not what is there, hidden for me, in the womb of time, still waiting to be born. Silent and cold is this darkness, this night and this stillness. But I still hope for morning to come.
And I must hope, because my life is color, fragrance and joy.
I am born to share secrets of nature. I am essence of sorrows, joys and tears, smiles and laughter. I am made from the love and millions of passions.
Soil is my mother, Yes! The very soil in which is hidden the powers of life, secrets of birth, seeds of tomorrow and echoes of yesterday.
Remember! When I take birth from this soil, with me are born peace and love, hope and kindness. I bloom to assert the power of truth.
I am the promise of tomorrow and the evidence of beauty. YES! I am all this and more, because I am a rose.
He felt as though his school van was taking him home at the speed of light.
“First I’ll tell all this to mother,” he decided to himself, “but what about father? Oh God! he is going to kill me” The very thought of this made his heart miss a beat. All he could do now was to repent the moment that he had left his bag lying unattended near the school gate and had gone by himself to play in the grounds outside the school.
“Ali, I am warning you for the last time, from now on you are going to wait inside the school till your van comes to pick you up. Is this clear?”
He remembered his father scolding him a few days ago, when he was caught playing outside the school in spite of the many previous warnings. That day Ali had escaped a real good spanking by promising never to disobey again. But today he had not only disobeyed but lost his school bag as well.
Continue reading The Promise: A Story by Maria Riaz Hamdani (Pakistan)
9/10/1992 Cloudy, rainy, windy
It’s been a long time since I touched my diary. Maybe, maybe I’m escaping from something. I have to admit that it’s not ‘maybe’; it’s so cruel that it’s the truth. When I pick up the pen, open the diary, the further I turn, the heavier the pen is. It’s so heavy that I can’t hold it anymore. I have to drop it. I can’t stand the heavy feeling anymore.
13/10/1992 Still raining and raining
I wouldn’t say the world is grey; that’s true only if you’re blind. But it has lost a lot of colours since he’s been gone, the colours in my world.
Continue reading The Weather by Joyce Chau (Hong Kong)
The sharp ‘click ticking of the wall-hung clock was jumping out across the silence in my darkened bedroom and methodically poking at my brain. Click-tick…click-tick? I sensed myself adjusting my breathing to match its rhythm—I’d inhale for two counts and exhale for four—as if to disguise my presence in the room. There were no other sounds, sights or smells to distract me. No matter how hard I tried to resist its intrusive tapping, the Clock was holding me hostage to its relentless reminders of passing seconds. It seemed somehow to be desperately trying to communicate with me…and demanding a response. My concentration could not be averted for longer than the few moments required to inwardly curse myself for my lack of control over its influence. Still, I didn’t dare move to cover my ears or leap from my bed. I was paralyzed with fear, I realized, but of what? I became more frightened as I lost the struggle to recall how long I had been in that captive state and what I’d experienced prior. My mind was aware only of the ‘here and now’ and had seemingly emptied out all other thought and memory. I remember becoming curiously calm and detached; however, when I began to wonder if I was losing my mind. Or worse. Click-tick…click-tick. There was urgency in the Clock’s tone that bordered on frantic. My own anxiety was squeezing the breath out of me.
Continue reading The Passing: A Story by Tanveer M.
Format your Life
Journal 9 – My cousin killed himself three weeks ago and I have attended the funeral as my father could not (because my Dad is older than my cousin and therefore could not go according to Chinese tradition). As I was not familiar with the funeral procedure, I went with my aunt.
I was quite nervous the day before the funeral, so I did not have enough sleep and felt very tired that day. When I arrived, my aunt asked me if I could look at my cousin (actually she forced me to look at him and what I was looking at was a body only). I was very scared and could not fall asleep during the following days.
Continue reading Format Your Life: Hui’s Diary (Hong Kong)
To Whom it May Concern: A Christmas Story
(Not Previously Published in Asian Voices)
December 25 2014
I was tidying up today and found several envelopes. It is a Christmas story (not a happy one I’m afraid) written in the form of correspondence. It is by one of my creative writing students at CityU (I am pretty sure it is by Laura Lam) about fifteen years ago.
Continue reading To Whom it May Concern by Laura Lam (Hong Kong)
AsianVoices Archives: These poems were originally posted on the now-defunct AsianVoices website (1997-2007), which featured poetry and fiction by young Asian writers. Copyright belongs to the original authors. If you are the writer and would like to remove, add or edit this work, please contact me at email@example.com and I will promptly carry out your request.
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