“Bilingual Dreams” by Christine Wu1 min read

2 August, 2019 0 comment

Image by Johannes Plenio

In preschool I learned to speak
English consonants and vowels
tumbling out my toddler mouth:
No. No. I want. I know.

Turned my back on my parents’
tongue, Chinese phonemes too difficult
and different from everyone else. Beaded
together clumsy strings of Chinglish

so my mother could understand
me at home. Read overweight tomes
of white Literature, filling my crevices and curves
with a lexicon sharp enough

to edge out the last of the Chinese. A foreign
substance inside my foreign body. I quit
Chinese school when I was eleven—good riddance
to that dreaded weekly class. I did not belong there

either. Left all the words
behind. Discovered other ways
to pretend. Over time, an awkward
unfamiliarity with this forgotten language,

unable to speak to my parents,
having never learned the ways, built up
too much unsaid, gradually extinguished
what I knew, one character at a time.

Now it is gone and I forage
for my heritage in history books, old photos,
stories from other families (for I am unable
to ask my own). Sleep comes

fitfully. When I wake my voice calls out,
gām-yaht? géi-dím-ah? Entangled
in and out of realms of consciousness, the mind
searches for a grounding place, the body leaks

a heart language I do not know.
Is it still a mother tongue
if you cannot speak it anymore? My body knows
what I do not (that I never learned, or lost, or forgot).

Christine Wu is a Chinese-Canadian poet whose work has appeared in Descant. She has a BFA in Creative Writing from the University of Victoria. She currently makes her home on the unceded territory of the Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) and Mi’kmaq Peoples (Fredericton, NB) with her partner and their little grey cat. 
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