Spring 2017




Three poems

By Wen-Juenn Lee

Wen-Juenn Lee
© Wen-Juenn Lee


Malaysia is a prologue
I am ashamed to write.
friends etched chapters out of countries
built and shaped their lives
with homes in their mouths
but Malaysia falls flat on my tongue
Malaysia is
but how do you condense
contented isolation
confused exhilaration
a stranger in your home
a wai guo ren
in a single word?

Shakespeare did not mean
the diaspora
when he spoke of Antony
straddling East and West
leg pillars on either side
yet I am Antony
the traitor
the foreigner
my mother says people stare at me
as if I do not feel the Otherness myself
you don’t even need to open your mouth

but where are you really from?
my skin is not white
but where are you really from?
I speak with an accent that clings.

A Love Letter to My Mother: a work in progress

My mother speaks to me in riddles.

this is how I’ve learnt to say
have you eaten? 1
what’s the weather like? 2
in the pregnant silence over Skype

She reads Guo Xiaolu and Xinran during the day
fills her head with disillusionment and the diaspora
trauma and loss
but she forwards me chain emails on the dangers of microwaved water
brings homemade dumplings in Tupperware containers when she visits me
and squints at my unmade bed

She tells me there are too many Chinese in Auckland
I do not know what to say
how do you tell your mother
about internalised racism
when she has watched you
tug your monolids
widen your eyes
squeeze your body into a box of palatable Asianness?

She takes astronomy classes at night.
I do not ask her why she stargazes
what she looks for
in the oily darkness
we go to a poetry reading on migrant women
I do not tell her
I remember her
crying on the plane
I do not tell her
I wrote sacrifice in my book
but I did not know where to begin.

1 I miss you
2 I love you

From Wellington to Melbourne

The city is a memory that burns from the inside out
here, it takes 9 months to form a heart
but seconds to shatter it

here your bedroom walls are empty and you feel alone
you sleep on a bed too soft
in an apartment too neat
and you wonder how it will smell in six months’ time.

in a city
with no name to call your home
you will walk past hellos
or rather hullo
loud and guttural and
who said Australians’ accents are similar to New Zealanders’?

the coffee shop down the road does not offer just the regular
not when four million people walk these streets
not when home is a coffee shop in a neighbourhood far away.

in a city so empty yet so full
with midnight car parks gaping white bones
one window amongst a multitude
you will hold onto scraps of human recognition
master loneliness so it is your slave
learn to write and eat
hold a single finger (‘table for one?’)
feel the strength of it reverberate in your core.

you will spill unfailing optimism
on the cracked pavements
at the feet of pressed alleyways
because it symbolises A Dream
today I will find a job
today I will make a new friend

today the city expands.

people say they know places like the backs of their hands
you wonder how long it will take you to clutch this city in your palm
to mould its people and lanes into familiarity
do you even want the awe confusion

to fade?

About Wen-Juenn Lee

Wen-Juenn is a graduate from the University of Auckland in English Literature and Media Studies. Her mother's love for reading and writing inspired her to write from a very young age. The first film she ever watched was My Fair Lady. Drawing from her experiences as a Malaysian-Chinese in New Zealand, she writes of love, loss and belonging.