A Special Starch: Poems by Grace Yee

By | 1 August 2021
a special starch

for the sake of social peace grandfather father uncle all lived in the shop at russell st upstairs, I was born in 1938 in chinatown, I married a european they have always shown themselves to be acutely imitative we became restaurant owners in the lucky country, in the evenings my father ate a european meal of steak but the chinese in their decrepit dens roofed with sugar mat are not moral from a european standpoint they’d sling you off, call you names, pull your hair, ching chong chinaman THEY ARE ALIENS my mother was an alien, I remember seeing the documents, the worm cysts in her brain they will not surrender their chopsticks for knife and fork we used a special starch, the white starch, they called it, sunday dinner was always roast beef and potatoes they are heathens peddling tea, gim-crack fancy-goods and moonstruck fish they’d whisper in my ear, we don’t want you here, go back to where you came from fossickers snow-droppers chicken-thieves grandfather was a merchant, a shrewd businessman, played the goldmines so long as there’s a colony of chows there is small-pox-typhoid-leprosy and fourteen other means of sudden or lingering death I’m a surgeon, my father’s living was herbalist, we washed on mondays wednesdays and fridays, their grimy necks are VILE FOUL AND FILTHY my parents never taught me to socialise with the european, we put the tags on all their dirty laundry the chow told the customs officer in mutilated english he wants to acquire riches and fatty tissue to get character references my father hung his queue behind the door the colonial climate agrees with him grandfather got naturalised in 1960, we tossed a coin in his grave in the chinese quarter they decoy european girls with sheen of silk and jingle of gold my brother, whose nickname was ‘cheesy’, lived at the back of the shop with his australian wife their asiatic cunning gets more from the soil than any other race we sit down and talk vegetable, eat rice, salt fish or egg absurdly low price ‘cabbage’ and ‘gleen pea’ very hard to say, when the whitlam government came in, australia became part of asia all chinamen are equally ugly and otherwise similar supernatural stories abound about our people who can turn into fungus all Australians must inflexibly demand: keep this land fit and pleasant for white men I’ll be up in the mine shaft, crank up the gramophone, tell me a story, sing me a song

First published in Honey Literary, Issue 2. 29 July 2021.

‘a special starch’ includes phrases sourced and adapted from The Bulletin: AntiChinaman Special Number, 14 April 1888; Morag Loh, Oral History Interviews with Chinese Immigrants and their Descendants 1976-83: Dennis O’Hoy (Sept 1982), Tom Leung (26 Feb 1982), Esme Kim (14 Oct 1981), Anonymous (July 1982). State Library Victoria.

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