When I first get off the plane, the heat hits me, tropical, alien. For once, I’m no different. The anonymity subdues me. This is where my past begins. I meet my uncle for steamed bamboo baskets of dim sum and oolong tea. He is tall, fair-skinned, almost like a gweilo, people say. From my aunt’s apartment windows, I see tendrils of mist rise from Tai Mo Shan mountain. Mammoth dragonflies hover, translucent-winged, their presence signalling the imminent fall of rain. I look for traces of my grandmother. A woman I meet, from the same village as her, mourns for her orphaned children, laments the tyrant husband, the cruelty of the mother-in law. She remembers my mother as a child. By day, I read the Tao Te Ching. I want to understand something about the nature of emptiness, start again somehow. The character for Tao contains a head and a walking foot which means the way. In the Chi Lin nunnery on Diamond Hill, there are lotus ponds, bonsai tea plants, purple and orange bougainvillea. Behind intricate screens nuns offer fruit and rice to Buddha. High-rise apartments tower in the background.
Jennifer Lee Tsai
An earlier version of this poem appeared in Ten: Poets of the New Generation, ed. Karen McCarthy Woolf (Bloodaxe: 2017).