Andy Quan (born 1969, Vancouver, British Columbia)
Quiet and Odd
Darren Lee and I were superstars, unafraid to swing
from the highest branch of his backyard’s gnarled
apple tree, we terrorized insects, older
high-school kids, made snarky remarks about
Mrs. Kopinski in the corner house simply because
we could. We sang: Jesus Christ /
Superstar / Who in the hell do you think you are.
“What a shame,” adults told us. We couldn’t speak
our ancestral language. Nor could our mothers! Tell
them they’ve lost their heritage. What’s the use anyway
of those clattery loud towers of nine tones, building
blocks flung at you in too bright colours?
Besides, we were not Bennett Ho whose mother
banned him from sex-education class, not Adrian
Tong with his rice-bowl haircut (the fringe swinging
round his head like a carousel of animals). Brian Tom
not yet into his teens expected only bad things in life
so as never to be disappointed. Not Jacob Chiu
whose Mom shaved his skull, everyone wanted to
feel its tiny combs against their fingers. Dominic
Kong was certainly not us, he told people he didn’t
know Chinese but who could follow his broken
English? Definitely not Joseph Fong who stepped
in dog poop and didn’t care, the playground
suddenly the Titanic sinking, passengers wailed
It wasn’t just that they were odd.
They were quiet boys. Not like us, nails on chalk
boards, fire drill alarms: when my voice broke
I couldn’t even whisper without getting in trouble.
We reckoned their tongues got caught on the way
out of their mouths like jackets on doorknobs
as they rushed outside, their mothers calling them
back to do their homework, mind their grandmothers,
though even they’d pretend they couldn’t hear
or understand whatever language shouted after them.
© 2007 Andy Quan
From his collection “Bowling Pin Fire”, published by Signature Editions, Winnipeg, Manitoba
Andy Quan, born in Vancouver, now lives in Sydney, Australia – and lived in Toronto in 1993–94. He’s 3rd generation Chinese-Canadian and 5th generation Chinese-American with roots in the villages of Canton. He is the author of four books. Calendar Boy’s short stories included many that addressed the intersection of sexuality and race for gay asian protagonists. Six Positions: Sex Writing is a collection of gay erotic fiction. Slant and Bowling Pin Fire are Quan’s two books of poetry. His writing has been published in a wide variety of literary journals and anthologies around the world. These days, he works as an editor and a copywriter and can be visited at http://www.andyquan.com.
The poet reflects upon “Quiet and Odd”:
“Much of my poetry has been autobiographical story-poems. I used writing as a way to locate myself in the world, and to share those experiences with others – though received good advice along the way that a story is not enough, the language needs to be energized and engaging. Though ‘Quiet and Odd’ seems straightforward, I think it requires quite a bit from readers: an ability to understand a multicultural society, to imagine the experiences of those born in countries of different cultural backgrounds and skin colour, but then to delve deeper into the way these experiences may affect how people move and present to the world. It’s a very understandable Canadian poem, but does it work in countries with much less immigration and cultural diversity?”