They Told Me

They told me my name is creative before asking me what’s my real name. I shake my head and tell them – no, this is my name. But they do not believe it. They do not believe in my country. They see my home as a back-alley potpourri of stained drains, tinfoil roofs and rice paddies. They see ragged clothes, people, governments. They see it as a place of spiritual enlightenment but not as a home – my home. In two weeks’ time, when Trump comes over we will suddenly become ‘a pirate island’ again. Elsewhere I see people tattooed with the language as though inking themselves with sutras will bring them that much closer to some other god they do not believe in but are amused by. I am served Singaporean noodles and asked whether it is authentic. They ask me how I breathe in the Chinese smog. I smile and shrug, and it continues: this game of made-in-china authenticity. The other day I am mistaken for my friend and I run through my name again with them until it stays there for that one moment yet they never seem to remember so we keep playing this game of charades until eventually they stop caring. My name washes over them because they do not believe in it as well. Which is why when you told me to call you by Jessica moving forward I could not take it. Why do you build these muddy walls between us when we were all born from the same earth? The same earth that sculptured your name. One character meaning faith, hope, peace – one character meaning the heavens. Why would you take this beauty and break it down into bricks? The further I was from my home, the more I felt I was ever part of it. I would not dare tear down these flats for the sake of fitting into the small, Chinaman-sized hole these folks have for me in their hearts, one which when filled lets them say this: I am cultured, I am enlightened, I am better.

Valen Lim is a member of Singapore-based writing collective /Stop@BadEndRhymes (/S@BER). His poems have been published in various SingPoWriMo anthologies, as well as Quarterly Literary Review Singapore. He can be found online at https://uglystage.com.

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