Tiger Balm

When I was sick my mother would rub tiger balm

on my belly and let me watch Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady

I thought something about Eliza Doolittle

scrambling for coins in London cured me

now I think it was my mother’s hands.

When my Ah Tai died, my mother disappeared

so we ate burnt chicken until she came back

I think she thought praying would help but

Ah Tai was 95 and probably wanted to go

Ah Tai wore two-piece synthetic pantsuits, told me

how tall I was at Chinese New Year

we didn’t talk much, she spoke Cantonese

but I learnt to look and be looked at.

When she came back, my mother was fine

but grief did something—

since learning about my breakup 

she sends me quotes every day

today’s is:


I don’t tell her that I like inspecting wounds

and being reminded of my aliveness

my mother would call that UNHEALTHY & TOXIC

but sometimes, she sends photos of my brother’s baby

eyes closed and swaddled, he rests

against her chest, I see her rocking him, saying, darling

Wen-Juenn Lee writes and edits in Naarm. Growing up as a Malaysian-Chinese settler in Wellington, she uses her writing to explore concepts of home: a word that leaks. Her poetry has appeared in SoutherlyLandfall, and other places.

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