Our hours have been lifted out of the rusty bottoms of the clocks and carried halfway across the globe to another continent. On the new continent, everything seems immortal, appetizing, immune to decay. On the new continent, every stranger that returns our gaze seems to scream the maddening joy of life into our ears. The new continent breeds a different breed of men, we say to ourselves. As we settle into the strange new commonality, weights of nostalgia and scorn for the past make slow our progress to integrate, to ape. In the face of a storm whose strength has been hitherto unrivalled, we ask for more and more and more of it, until a fear creeps into our shoes and from there spreads a chill through to our hearts: that one day this too will no longer seem precious.
So begins the life of every immigrant who has changed hands in the trades between lands. Our motherlands spit us out like pits with gooey fibres of the fruit still attached. Out you go, the motherlands say and give us a shove. On we board airplanes, on we flood into the carriages of trains, on we spread thin into ships, and we are stringy bits that make tangles wherever we go. If we are lucky, our threads join with ones that understand us. From there everything we own, obtain, and encounter becomes common totalities that belong only to the immigrants. Our loves, lifting us off our feet, whizz us from one embrace to another. The empty streets are full of empty embraces and arms left open like permanent scars from permanent damage. Sometimes we look up and smile at something. A sparrow flying out of a window. A curtain pulling shut. We start from the bottom up. Let the whirlwind take us where it will. Let the road train push us on.
Money that stinks of sweat and blood and now a toothache that we can’t pay for. What’s it worth, even the Sun doesn’t know. The new continent calls us names, because we are cleaners and blue collars. We are nurses that murder patients. We are violence going to school and going to work. We are incarcerated because we are dangerous. We are refugees that falsify identities. We are remnants of war crimes not worthy of better destinies. We are beans spat out of the pods. We are bakers that poison innocent children. Dangerous we are. Therefore, don’t trust us. The new continent divides us into categories. Everything is colour-coded. Yet any good painter will tell you there is no such thing as skin colour. The pink doesn’t mix with the dark brown or the ochre olive and that’s that. Apart. Thighs apart. Winner takes the bloodied tides. Ride it all the way back home.
Yet the real time runs so much faster than our clocks. We talk to ourselves and hold on to the seconds. Some of us after twenty years of working still haven’t gotten the official papers. We hold objects that our loved ones brought us close to our hearts. Loved ones who have passed on. Memories of a different world. This is how we miss them. Paperless. Homeless. While some of us are doing even better than the new continent men. The new continent brings something new to our palate each day, yet sometimes all we want is the old stuff that nobody remembers anymore. Soon our tongues begin to twist in ways we couldn’t have understood before. Soon our children will understand us no more. Children of the new continent, yet they belong with us. But do they? One day we will live apart. One day we may grow apart. We don’t need colours for that. Blind rage. Well-seasoned rage. Ironically, even sadness does not stay with us forever.
Some ghost from the past keeps winding back all the clocks in the house. When I date things I am still writing 2019. All the roads seem to merge into this one: Treasures are fast forgotten. Excitements never last. New continents are new like fashion is new. Then we melt down into the same old potting mix. The manure of the afterlife. The fertilizer for the dead. The paving stone for the young.
Janet Jiahui Wu is a Hong Kongese-Chinese-Australian visual artist and writer of poetry and fiction. She has published in various literary magazines such as Voiceworks, Cordite Poetry Review, Mascara Literary Review, Rabbit, Plumwood Mountain, foam:e, Tipton Poetry Journal, Yes!, Gone Lawn, SCUM, and so on. She currently lives in South Australia.