My question is to my Poh Poh, my maternal grandmother who was also a writer. It is often said in my family that she was born too soon. She came from a privileged family in Hong Kong and was afforded an education. Poh Poh was literate. She married when she was 15 and birthed 9 children. I don’t think she was a great mother from what I can gather from my mother, and I don’t know if she even wanted to be a mother. She smoked and wore Cheongsams every day. My mother tells me that she was scandalous as a young woman, wearing “transparent” flapper dresses when modesty was the vogue for wealthy women at the time. Before WW2, she wrote. I have no idea how this happened, but she wrote under a pseudonym and had a column in several syndicates. She wrote stories told in sequence that were updated weekly. They were love stories, set in Shanghai mostly. I don’t know anything about them, but I tried to find them on research trips to Hong Kong. I can’t read Chinese, and so I had a friend who went to the archives to assist me. Her pen name was Purple Pear. Sadly, we found that all the papers were destroyed when Japan occupied Hong Kong during the war. After it was over, another writer, a man, continued the column under her name. All that remains are his stories, and she is erased from the record.
My Poh Poh raised me from 1 month old until I was 5 and immigrated to Canada. I remember her telling me marvellous stories although my mom says it was actually just the one story that she told me over and over again. She eventually did immigrate to Canada, and I remember long nights in her bedroom, filing her nails while she smoked her menthol cigarettes. I loved her very much.
Poh Poh had Parkinson’s Disease towards the end. It was a long and cruel death that robbed her body a little bit at a time until she could not move at all, and even her voice was taken. At one of her hospital visits, she pointed at me to the nurse and said in Cantonese, “this one is mine”. I am hers. I am still hers.
My question to her is this: Poh Poh, what was your happiest moment? Tell me a moment of immense joy, so I can carry it in my body, cherish it, celebrate it for you every day.
I am here. I was here. There were more that came before too. You are never alone.
Carrianne Leung immigrated from Hong Kong to Canada at age 5. Her first novel,The Wondrous Woo (Inanna Publications), was a finalist for the 2014 City of Toronto Book Award. Her collection of linked stories THAT TIME I LOVED YOU (HarperCollins Canada) will be released March 2018.
Carrianne is currently preparing for her book launch…
Her book of linked stories, “That Time I Loved You” will be coming out at the end of March. The launch will be held at the Lula Lounge on March 28th at 7 PM!
I have thought and thought and I don’t know if I have any questions for you. I know your words were stolen, your stories and bodies turned into sites of shame. I wouldn’t want to burden you with questions you might not want to answer, or memories you may not want to recount. So I guess I have no questions to ask of you. I only have gratitude for you. Because of you, I’m here. Because of you, my daughter is here. Because of you, we still have a small patch of land to call home, a place we can speak our languages and hold our ceremonies together to make our nations strong.
Maybe I do have a question or two after all.
How can I make you most proud?
How can I best show my appreciation for all that you’ve done?
You are worth all the struggles I’ve had to endure and will have to endure in my life.
You are worth it all.
Alicia Elliott is a Tuscarora writer living in Brantford, Ontario. Her writing has been published by The Malahat Review, The New Quarterly, The Walrus, Macleans, Globe and Mail and many others. Her essay “A Mind Spread Out on the Ground” won Gold at the National Magazine Awards this past May and has been selected to be published in Best Canadian Essays 2017. She has most recently been named the 2017-2018 Geoffrey and Margaret Andrew Fellow at UBC.
Follow her on twitter @WordsandGuitar.
Can you hear me?
What are the ways that I can honour you?
What can I do in my every day to make you feel remembered?
Are you and I ever to cross paths again?
And if so, what would you like me to bring to you?
Your intuition is the only voice that should lead you.
Know it intimately.
Even if much time has passed since you last listened to it,
now is always the right time to listen.
Whitney French is a writer, storyteller and multi-disciplinary artist. She is a daughter of Jamaican parents of the African Diaspora, from the lineage of Maroon warriors, with subtle Chinese bloodlines, and a blending of many unknown lineages. Whitney has been published in a couple of places but she takes more pride in the community she builds than the things she produces. Visit her website, IG, FB and twitter to learn more.
Photo: Aden Abebe