Sunday, 6 May 2007

Alison Wong: poems

Alison Wong is a 3rd generation Chinese New Zealander. She was the 2002 Robert Burns Fellow at Otago University. Her first collection of poetry, Cup, was published by Steele Roberts in 2006, and one of her poems was selected for Best New Zealand Poems 2006. She lives in Titahi Bay, where she is finishing off a novel.

These poems are from cup, Alison Wong (Steele Roberts, 2006,

Playground ©

In the playground, a girl calls to her
brother, Look out for the Chinese boy.
I look at my son. He can say bum, fart
and all kinds of body parts—all in Chinese.
He has dark blonde hair.

I am Chinese, he says proudly.
When I’m an adult, I will eat my vegetables.
I will be a woman.


He rides a rocking hamburger
alongside his two best girlfriends.
This is where they discuss
the meaning of life and happiness.
Vagina, one says. Piss, he says, laughing.
Later coming down the stairs, the other
sister smiles. Piss you off, she says.

That night his father asks,
You know what vagina means,
don’t you? Yes, he says, smiling,
I love Sasha and Courtney.

Round Hill ©

Leslie leads the way through miro, supplejack and mamaku.
Everywhere the crush of leaves underfoot,
the sound and smell of water. Fantails
spread white and black feathers
and peep peep in the hush
of muted greens and browns. We walk
beside stone walls that line the banks
and water races,
past sluices, dams and mine shafts
where once five hundred Chinese miners
lived and worked. Leslie lifts a tin drum lid
from one fork of a race to the other. This
is how we divert
water. We watch it rush
over the bank,
pass old camp sites with their broken
brandy bottles and celadon bowls,
stones arranged like a memorial
or a grave.
Possums lie close to the path, stripped
back to pale flesh. This one reminds me
of the dogs hanging in the markets of Canton
their jaws wide open.
You can come around here quietly now, Leslie says,
his small 83-year-old body moving lightly.

One hundred pounds ©

For Wong Wei Jung, Wellington 1914

There is no photograph of the father
of the father of my father
only one taken
from the ancestral home by a man
not related. I imagine him
(inside a cardboard
box, lost in the tenements of
modern Canton)
in pure black
and white, and perhaps aged
the colour of old blood,
and wonder
did he have hair
that swung across his back
in the style of Manchurian
subjection, or was it cut
short and covered by
a trilby? Ah, there
is nothing to see, only brazen black
letters on aged white paper:
a notice of Murder
from the Minister of Justice
the reward as great
as the poll tax.

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