March 7, 2016

Nicholas Wong: “Notes on a Genre Called Father”

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This week we feature a new poem by Nicholas Wong. Wong is the author of Crevasse (2015, Kaya Press). New poems and translation are forthcoming or have appeared in Asymptote, Copper Nickel, Massachusetts Review, Quarterly West, The Margins, and Verse Daily. Based in Hong Kong, he is a real Asian poet, and an assistant poetry editor for Drunken Boat.
 
Author’s note:

My current project explores the themes of labor and nurturing by questioning myself what my father, the local Southeast Asian migrant domestic workers, and the Umbrella Revolution that broke out in Hong Kong in 2014 mean to me. My father and I live under the same proof, but he barely talks about his past. I barely ask about it, or anything else. Then in my mid 30s, I started to be disturbed by this distance in vicinity. Call the inexpressiveness a typical Chinese thing, or I am just an awful son running away from filial piety. The constantly exploitative voice in my poems about him does not bridge our gap, or surprise me. And if, as Tony Hoagland has once said, there is certain truth in meanness in poetry, each poetic line (or paragraph in the prose poem below) slightly eases my guilt of not knowing, yet reinforces my desire of wanting to know less. It is a war.
 
Acknowledgement: the poem borrows language from Bliss Cua Lim’s essay, “Spectral Times: The Ghost Film as Historical Allegory” (2001).

 

Notes on a Genre Called Father

 
I am haunted by my reluctance to collect any grainy dailiness and regrets from my father about my father. A ghost in me obnubilates my bubbly image of him
 
The ABC of most B-horror films is single parenthood. It is rare to see both parents simultaneously being haunted, or exorcising for their haunted child. The genre’s rasping reluctance to break the convention. I wonder if the budget is fetterbush to the breakage
 
In Barcelona, the tour guide said it was impossible to talk about the Spanish Civil War in an hour, so he talked about what was meaningful
 
Bombing, back then, did not guarantee accuracy. The landing spots of bombs depended on gravity, the wind, and the pilot
 
People hid in shelters. Buckets of water, ripples that forecast fears, and limbs to bandage. Some tore their husbands’, fathers’, or brothers’ shirts into strips of incongruence. The guide used them as a reference to women, without saying women in the first place, as if the word was an odalisque to hope. I thought it was odd
 
to think about gravity underground
 
What my father lacked was common like a knife, a sieve, and a storybook. Born when the Japanese bombed the city, he lost its sense of time
 
July 15, 1946 on his ID, a fictional origin. He could be older, balder, less pulverized, more prime
 
Birth certificates were fabricated during the Japanese Invasion. The metaphysics of wars was to manifest temporal chaos to both national and individual histories, and lock survivors and survival in a disjuncture
 
Baba – Now, I get it. In Babadook (2014), when the clawed spook popped up nightly from the craft of a storybook, the son had to act like he had lost it, before the mother took the knife, held it in reproach by the sink
 
before she barbed the chute to retain her sewage wifehood like a pentimento
 
Baba – She might have tied her apron with unstrung excursus of divorce, might want to wash away the curse on once vociferous sex now paining her into a form of loss
 
When she lost it, I got it. It was the genre’s tendency to deceive, and to deliver deception into a climax
 
The son was her dinghy, a hero with a blanched face, reminding her not to act like a sieve
 
Underground, names were wall-etched with torch smoke, as if one never got out
 
Which exit. How did breaths become communal. Whose incus augured for, then argued with sirens
 
Miró’s Hair Pursued by Two Planets (1968): an apple of acidic red, pierced by a four-legged fork, soured; an eidetic shoe
 
The vibrancy of colors seemed to bring objects to life. But if objects are alive, we say they are cursed, like a bad book from Babadook
 
Another guide said that “Miró explored certain themes such as that of Mother and Child repeatedly throughout his long career.” In Urdu/Hindi, babadook meant Father-Grief
 
In real life, ghosts never gutturalize Baba before they appear. Papa, they are among us, common like a knife, a sieve, and a storybook
 
A beach with no sand is real haunting
 
I am haunted by the return of a reluctance. A ghost in me obnubilates the bubbly image of my father
 
If there is a ghost in me, there is a living object in me, which makes me half-me, half-objectified
 
Coming through the years of ablution of buttocks, I now consecrate that the object is femininity
 
The female specter in classical Chinese literature is positioned as pure yin in relation to man as the fullest flowering of yang, the ghost is a foil to human, as woman is to man. Therefore, maleness is closer, if not equivalent, to humanness
 
Horror will be the last genre to die. It needs humans, the way loss needs lilting orphans
 
Father, I am nearing you, my eyes opening, though the opening eye of horror is far more often an eye on the defense than an eye on the offense
 
From what I remembered, you were less impressed by Barcelona than Madrid, where you found a Royal Madrid jersey that had no name or number on its back
 
The land lived the Spanish Civil War. The coastline, no
 
Barcelona was lachrymal, its cannons missed the bombing jets, and explosives dived into the sea. Water was the best absorbent of failure
 
When you ran away from the bombing, did you look back? Or before it happened, did your head practice turning with precision to witness the burning, the smoke of family trees
 
You probably were too young to practice looking back to install memory, the consolation of flashbacks
 
You told me grandpa died of heart attack at home when a bomb was dropped. He must have been accompanied, because you skipped the part about how his body was found
 
and how you reacted upon the moment of fatherlessness.
 
How did it feel when the notion of father started to dematerialize sooner than it should be? How to translate the smoothness of wounds without scratching them into words
 
I have assumed, for years, that you acquired sanity the way we obliterate the past by instinct, and once I hear myself saying this, I feel like an etiolating wall that has always known the law of flaking paint, unsurprised by the noise of time

 

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