Editor’s Note: This poem was first performed by Malaysian poet, Nuan Ning at the International University of Malaya-Wales Slam Off on October 16, 2019 where the 14-year-old emerged as a runner-up. It was such a delightful piece that we obtained Nuan Ning’s permission to post it here for you to enjoy.
They were like chicken rendang.
Sweet and spicy, and leaving you wanting more.
They tasted of a pinch of curry powder topped
with diced chicken and a sprinkle of turmeric;
a tapestry of flavours woven intricately together
like the colours on a sari.
Different colours and flavours intertwined in a
masterpiece painted on a dome of warm Basmati rice.
Then they went in with the details, adding brushes of
cumin and a smudge of grated ginger. This was how they lived.
Swishing silk saris in late October and bangles on
thin wrists; they danced through the months. Made
roti canai and dahl, dotting the streets as evidence
of their presence. This was how my best friend lived.
We had chicken too. Except ours drowned in portobello
mushroom sauce, decorated with thinly sliced potatoes
and a sprinkle of hurriedly chopped chives. It had basil
and oregano, and a dash of black pepper. My feet
now stand on ground too far from my parents’ birthplace,
and our traditions have been stretched across the ocean
in between this land and Penang, the pot steaming with
coconut milk curry mee soup and 年糕 with
deep fried sweet potatoes for breakfast; my parents left
those flavours behind when they picked up their bags and
spun across the Malaysian Peninsula, dropping spices and
sauce for a school in KL. Leaving their mother tongues in
cottages in Butterworth, and Bayang Lepas, their accents
merely mothers who were still holding on to their firstborns
I did not inherit those accents. Instead, I borrowed words from
poets on YouTube shaping my lips to mimic their perfect
straight sentences; my father grew up riding on the back of
a rusty motorcycle, I’m growing up drinking poetry
from a screen, this is where we diverge. This is where
I stand at the crossroad, looking out at my best friend’s
home, spices and secrets slipping out of her window
like I wish mine would. Like I wish our home
smelled of peanut paste and thick vegetable soup.
What I wouldn’t give to have hokkien and teo chew
tucked into my back pocket like a secret only I understand;
To remember the taste of kuangjiang, beancurd rolled into
carrots and bangkwangcah in the months in between
Chinese New Year and 冬至. To hold angkukuih in my
palms and taste sugar and lotus paste after
a long day at school. My mother’s cooking is
evaporating from my tongue like steam swirling out
of a bowl of curry mee and soup.
This warm, afternoon
breeze, gone before twilight.
*** Header image by Noahs Knight on Unsplash.
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Tags: Noahs Knight, Nuan Ning
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