Ars Poetica

As a child, I often considered the impact that falling
in love with English had on my mother’s happiness.
She once said, don’t think you can talk back to me in
a colonial language, it isn’t superior! I can’t describe

her voice – when she speaks in Shanghainese – it is
sweet like water. Her language came to me as in a
familiar dream, a lotus flower sinking into my self
and blooming. During my first month in England,

I learnt the art and science of speaking to reassure.
How else can I survive? It’s so easy to be ashamed.
I am asked why my poems are so clear. I’ll confess:
it’s what happens when you want to be understood.

Ten years ago, I found myself in Nice and learnt to
dream in French, my mother’s first foreign tongue.
That summer, the sea was also my mother, the Bay
of Angels held me in its polyphony, and I chose all

my loves – Cantonese, English, Mandarin, French –
spoke with a satisfaction I had not felt in years, saw
my relationship to the world through sounds again,
till I was reconciled, the way rainbows exist in rain.

From Bright Fear. Reproduced with kind permission of Faber & Faber.

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