chinese class

I always thought they named the building
after a girl/but recently it dawned on me
Brook/the stream/the babbling of grief/
what did I know of that word/except rocks/
how we flung them out of our mouths
chanting/ zài suŏ yŏu . . . wŏ zuì xĭhuān . . ./
& out of all those years/I liked best
afternoons curdling/then scissored light/
children thrashing/incensed cries/rising
Thorndon Pool/how Wáng lăoshī cried
consolidate!/until it sounded like a joke/
didn’t matter that our Chinese faces
spoke white/all of us knew the routineness
of string/mā má mǎ mà/knotted our xīn
into snake bites/left our tongues parched/
dead nailed until the bell rang three.

Wen-Juenn Lee writes poetry on unceded Wurundjeri Country. In her writing, she is interested in gaps, leaks and spillage, which often take the form of place, memory, the body and her family. Her writing has been published in Meanjin, Cordite Poetry Review, Landfall, Southerly, Going Down Swinging, and Scum Mag, among others. She was a Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellow for 2022 and is an artist for the KINGS Artist Run Emerging Writers Programme. She has performed at ‘The Next Big Thing’ for Meanjin and Going Down Swinging, and at the University of Melbourne and Meanjin’s ‘Poets Respond to Dante’. Her writing was highly commended in the Liminal and Panterra Press Non-Fiction Prize and the Sarah Broom Poetry Prize, and was runner-up in the University of Melbourne and Meanjin's Poetry Prize. She has been awarded the Tina Kane Emergent Writer Award for 2023.

Wen-Juenn comments: 'I think of 'chinese class' as a kind of love letter to my high school, to the particular afternoons where the sun and the dust seemed eternally present in the classroom. Chinese class didn't have the social or cultural capital of learning French or Latin, it was a sort of miscellaneous dreamstate. We were the children of diasporas and settler colonialism, and we were trying our best to learn and inhabit a language. There is something nostalgic in the trying.'

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Wen-Juenn Lee's website