Arrhythmia by Natalie Lim
2018 CBC Poetry Prize winner
Natalie Lim won the 2018 CBC Poetry Prize for Arrhythmia.
You can read Arrhythmia below.
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
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,
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,
Listen to Natalie Lim read Arrhythmia
Read the other finalists
- (M)other by Sanita Fejzić
- Canadian Immigration Services Citizenship Exam by Neil Griffin
- Phone Sex with a One Time Lover on the West Coast by Julie Mannell
- The Autobiography of Water by Bola Opaleke
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.
"It was a super introspective process," says <a href="https://twitter.com/nataliemlim?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@nataliemlim</a> about her CBC award-winning poem. If there's something she wants you to take away from it, it's both gratitude for family and to think about racism's place in history and how we can combat it today.<br>cbc.ca1.4898113 <a href="https://t.co/tyapi9pU3q">pic.twitter.com/tyapi9pU3q</a>—@cbcnewsbc