Durian & Other Poems

by Shuli de la Fuente-Lau

Durian

I love opening a durian,
the tightness of the shell before I pull it
open, the soft rip as the cavity sees light,
the newspaper open wide on a cool porcelain
floor, the soft peachy flesh that melts
in my mouth, the weight of the fruited
seed in my palm

 

Walks to the Market

You can see the ribs
under the dog’s short fur,
as he trots alongside,
all of us shuffling up
that incline of a street,
gravel in between our toes,
over the concrete steps,
over the storm drain,
under the sweltering sun,
to market this morning.

How many times can a
sapling be replanted,
its roots dangling over
home, and then new home,
but all of us here,
spun again, to this side
of the earth, the humidity,
a balm, sweat
on my back so early in the
morning – I’m home.

You can pick which chicken,
you want slit, spun, and de-
feathered, which one you
want to hold a warm heart
and quivering limbs in a
plastic bag, and then you can
pick which kueh you want,
ang ku or kueh lapis or
onde onde, and you can
fill your bag with vegetables
with their dirt still smelling
like earth and their roots
wrapped in newspaper.

How many times did
we do this walk, the one
small thing each summer,
I hung on to for so many
spinning years, nostalgia
grew as large as the ache,
a home in no home,
and always this:
my jia por, her coifed hair
and long lower lip, her
crinkly laugh, and weathered
hands, to market in the
morning.

 

Penang

The land holds the extremities of weather,
an open palm of history,
of old shop lots,
of parking lots made of
gravel and stone,
made and remade each time
the pelting rain descends.
The world in this part of
the world is both
forgiving and unforgiving.
It does not ease itself for
any traveler, for
vines hug the sides of buildings
and sunlight is found through cracks
and soon rooms our ancestors once
filled with opium smoke
and talk of a nation in
its colonial slumber
and the slopping of languages
over each other
in only the way
that made Malaya, Malaya
are now full of a budding
jungle, nature forgiving
itself once again.

 

Motherland

I think of Malaysia –
the way the jungle grows despite
the concrete and the way the green
pushes itself out of burrowed cracks
in the curb, the moss all over, as it finds
its home on more than rock and
whole sides of trunk,
on steps of century-old shop lots and in
crevices of shiny skyscrapers
and

I think of the way the sky quivers before
a rainstorm, and of the way my grandmother’s
mouth opened wide, full of overgrown
teeth, somehow always smiling,
and I think of her little, bent body
in a bed that cranked in half
just so she could sit up, and
I wonder if she saw her life
as more than an ordered bride from
a hill village of tea bushes,
only to be the third wife of a man
who didn’t even speak her tongue
and

I think about how I had daydreams
of banana trees and of the way
humidity makes my skin moist
and how I dreamt that if I came back
and heard the slap of roti
as it falls and saw the cicaks in the
corners of rooms that whirling
fans soothe,
I think about how I thought
that all my life would then
make sense

 

Durian & Other Poems

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