Poems by Jonathan Chan

Part of of in
By Jonathan Chan
Sep 01, 2022 | min read
Part of
16 0 Snaps
16 Snaps
16 Snaps
16 0 Snaps
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

New Malden

“Joong-wha Choi, a former soldier in North Korea, lives today with his wife and children in New Malden - the south London suburb that is home to Europe's biggest North Korean population. Despite enjoying the new-found comforts of his British life, he would like to return to his homeland.” - The Guardian, 2018

“The very old, hands curling into themselves, remember their parents.” - Jane Hirshfield, ‘Sentencings’

do not forget the old 
country, nor think any less

of it. do not deign to 
imagine the soil, the 

mountains, the pink azaleas 
as they dance

in the wind. do not forget
to pause for each bite

of spinach, sprouts, red
cabbage over 

the tongue, the pork hissing 
on the grill, a little salt, 

it is a joy. do not forget 
that a bite of white

rice is a taste 
of our country, even when

the chimneys, the coal, the
endless grey skies form a chill

down your skin. do not forget
how to speak. we lived

near the sea, ate 
pollock and mackerel, until

we didn’t, mouths full of grass
and gruel. i ate to have strength

for your uncle; we eat now
to remember. do not jump

too quickly onto 
the zipline, spin too fast

on the carriage, forget
how i love to hear

your laughter, forget
the two skates i made

by hand, the bag of nails,
some iron, some copper, 

that filled 
an afternoon.

do not dream 
of your uncle, nor

your grandmother, only
dream of my tears

when you return, 
finding the green uniform

still starched, the skates
handmade, the photographs

still fading, your tears,
how alien their taste.

do not forget
to loosen 

the ash. 

A black and white image of underwater bubbles.

gunshots were heard near the divinity school

a caucus of prayer
gave way to the sound like
firecrackers. 

their eyes could not stay shut. 
the phones kept on buzzing 
and buzzing. a text. an email. 

down the block the roads
are sealed, tarmac flashing 
red and blue. 

another beautiful boy lying flat.  
another echo in the sanctuary. 

how often they begged for a ceasefire,
stained glass rattling, pleas bouncing
off the pristine chapel walls, clenched
hands readying for another liturgy
for homicide. 

give the children flowers 
to plant on the soil along the roads. 

ask each neighbour 
their need. 

all as they cry over the city, 
as the city cries to be freed. 

rootholds

after Yoji Inoue and CS Song

felt as in a
dream, the shadow

cast by a temple, a
scent of blossoms 

you can almost 
touch, the children

play, ball bounced,
sound ricochets off 

the petals starting to fall,
slowly, then in a

hurry, how deceptive
a peaceful sunbeam, 

imminent yet so beyond
reach, like water followed

to the head 
of a fountain, it flows,

it is, the gap 
is the whole, it can

be spoken, be 
named, eyes 

to see, ears 
to hear, how light

this darkness, how
lush a native

root, clinging to
invisible earth, young

and afloat, like oil 
to water, translucent 

like a jellyfish, meditation 
and rhyme, hand 

wrapped over carved
wood, the stubbornness

of a holy presence. 

Read the rest of the series
No items found.
16 0 Snaps
16 Snaps
16 Snaps
16 0 Snaps
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Jonathan Chan

Jonathan Chan is a writer and editor of poems and essays. Born in New York to a Malaysian father and South Korean mother, he was raised in Singapore and educated at Cambridge and Yale Universities. He is the author of the poetry collection "going home" (Landmark, 2022). More of his writing can be found at jonbcy@wordpress.com.

Like this article? You can get it in print:

Inheritance is a nonprofit that is made possible by readers like you. Donate to fund Asian and Pacific Islander faith stories.