CBC Literary Prizes

Arrhythmia by Natalie Lim

Natalie Lim won the 2018 CBC Poetry Prize shortlist for Arrhythmia.

2018 CBC Poetry Prize winner

Natalie Lim is a Vancouver-based poet and musician. (Amanda Lim)

Natalie Lim won the 2018 CBC Poetry Prize for Arrhythmia.

She will receive $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts, a writing residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity and will have her work published on CBC Books.

You can read Arrhythmia below.


Arrhythmia

in 1962, my grandparents left China.
they stood together on the bow of a ship and
watched the only shores they'd ever known
melt into darkness,
owning nothing but each other and
the clothes on their backs —

no, i'm sorry.
this story is a lie.

i mean, at least it might be.
i mean that i've
never asked how they got here,
or what it was like in those early days
raising three boys and a girl
in a shoebox house in a broken-glass city
in a country whose valleys were still haunted
by the driving of railways spikes,
one-two one-two for miles on end.

when i started school,
i stopped speaking Chinese.
i still know a little these days,
can manage phrases like
doh je
and
ho bao
that fall from my mouth
and shatter on the dinner table
while everyone pretends
not to notice.
i smile as i pick the shards out of my food,
hide them under a napkin,
breathe a sigh of relief
when the waiter takes my shame away.

sometimes i wonder if my children
will do the same —

i wonder if my popo feels each
stilted conversation like a
brick through a Chinatown window, like
a slur hurled from a moving car, like
one-two one-two for years, 
for a lifetime, maybe

i miss hearing her call me
by my Chinese name. 
Natalie, she says,
each syllable so carefully deliberate
as she passes me dishes piled high
with chow mein, hand-stuffed dumplings,
the best of intentions,
and i smile like always,
shake my head,
thank you
i'm full

here is a true story:
i was born in 1996
in a mid-sized house in a mid-sized city
in a country that proclaims diversity,
acceptance, yes i am from here, 
yes i mean here, i mean how do you grieve 
something you never really loved to begin with,
i mean my grandmother calls me Natalie now,
i mean i stopped speaking Chinese 
when i started school so

all i know about China is my popo's hands
the distant echo of her pulse,
one-two like shattering, rebuilding,
like turning foreign soil
into survival, into homemade apple turnovers
and summer afternoons
in the back garden —

because of you, popo,
i have never gone hungry.
thank you for what you have given.
look at all you have made.

ho bao, popo,
ho bao.
doh je.

Listen to Natalie Lim read Arrhythmia

The 2018 CBC Poetry Prize was awarded to Natalie Lim for her poem inspired by the lives of her grandparents. 2:39

Interviews

Natalie Lim speaks about winning the CBC Poetry Prize. 8:13
Natalie Lim, winner of the 2018 CBC Poetry Prize joins CBC Vancouver News host Dan Burritt to read some of her award winning poem Arrhythmia and to talk about its significance to her. 2:50

Read the other finalists

About Natalie Lim

Natalie Lim is a poet, occasional musician, unashamed nerd and soon-to-be-graduate of the school of communication at Simon Fraser University. More than anything, she loves stories — whether told through a book, podcast or video game — and she hopes to keep writing them for the rest of her life.

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