Here, Clara interrogates the relationship between language and cultural identity. The frustration and anger of the poetic voice is palpable.
by Clara Tang (4 November, 2016)
and the soil covering this cultural home of mine
growls and spits
once the soles
of my English-laced feet
kiss its Chinese ground.
The aftermath: questions
that build on themselves like grocery lists.
Lists that become a spine of metaphors
but are all metaphoric for the same thing:
“Are you Chinese?”
When I speak, and my tongue roars
the language of the Western lion
the language of the dragon,
When I taste
the dragon’s fire beneath the tip of my tongue,
and the flames are ice in comparison to everyone else’s dragons,
When the moon pushes the oceans away from her
to once again pull them back in,
and I swallow the words of my native language
to once again put the lion before the hushed dragon,
I’m still Chinese.
But alas, there is always someone who decides that the duality of my tongue
is enough to erase my belonging in the heart of the soil I was always from.
the battle ground that is my own mouth betraying me
when I stumble over my native tongue that I’m meant
to have swallowed and always known.
The aftermath: a question.
cold as stone.
“Aren’t you Chinese?”
If I could bite questions like one does of their tongue,
If I could change the eloquence of my empty Cantonese,
in a heartbeat that change would be.
But instead, I bite.
I bite half of my tongue
and I do not speak.
The flames of the dragon become confined,
growling and tucked beneath
and I only voice the Western lion’s roar.
Because that is the language I call my home.
I hear alienation
when the people on the same soil as me
hear my tongue. I hear too much.
I hear that my foreign tongue in my motherland
can only mean that I do not belong.
I hear the flame of my own Cantonese
no longer loudly crackling against the wood of my sandpaper tongue
because all that could be burned
has been burnt
by the embers of dragons with their sharpened fork tongues
the foreign earth of another country,
elsewhere, and cradle their culture in my rough hands
but it slips between my fingertips in a way that Hong Kong never would
because the foreign earth was never mine in the first place
and I don’t belong,
though my lioness tongue does.
Tell me, what does one do when she belongs in an interspace?
When the language of her mouth
leaves her a foreigner in her motherland
but her cultural roots craft her as an outsider in a foreign ocean?
When the roots that mean to ground her
to a certain place, a certain home,
have trouble wrapping their arms
around a city that does not want to hug her back?
Nevertheless, she has resided here ever since she even had a tongue
and she still speaks of it as her nest,
Did anyone ever tell you? Being and feeling
belong to two different sides of the same coin
and her heart is still confused as to which side of the earth
my raven hair responsible for swallowing the heat of the sun,
the sunstone that belongs to us
no matter where in the earth our heart and mind may be.
And when i’m asked,
“Where are you from?”
for the thousandth time,
I see the dragon perched upon my lips when I tell them,
I belong ‘here’
in the same way that the sun does
for them and me.