Three Poems by Tan Tzy Jiun


Lunar New Year

for my grandfather

Deep in the drumbeats on the streets
the paper dragon bangs a noise
that cannot turn white. The morning
rubs the children’s bones with disinfectant soap.
It burns. There will be no kidnappings nor cymbals
this new year. The moons have been smelted
into gold rings. In some dark corners, snakes lie,
suck air through their fangs,
their bellies a tunnel without light.
The price of oil and salt
are on a steep increase, that is all
the fathers would talk about.
The grandfathers sit quiet
in the corners of their lost years.
There are no givens for the immigrant,
the ones whose backs curve
like a question in the back of a throat.
He took a beating every evening,
gave a beating every morning.
On that bicycle, he explored every nook
on this humid side of the mushroom
cloud. He saw men exploding like fireworks.
He biked ahead. That human shadow etched in stone.
My grandfather, this is to tell you
you have become what you feared,
a ghost. My mothers are no longer
heirlooms, and dragons
no longer dance in day light.
What a sight, the absence
of celebration, the full moon’s no-show,
and your granddaughter the writer
excavating family shame, the same warning stain
as that betel juice on your clean shirt.
You gave your world in exchange
for a ball of tin ore.
Under that steely coat
is a rotting core.
No one sees it.
Everyone knows.

Amygdala hijack

I had hoped to touch you here—
between the flight-fight. Two whole truths
the size of an almond, the nutty caress
and bodies arching and twisting
in precise acrobatics. The cause?
A poison that hooks around your ankles
and snaps your bones.
The bones as in the gritty
scaffolding that keeps your feet
in motion when your nerves elongate
like string on a kite. Out in the wild,
the sickle turns into a snake.
I swear, those white old ladies have eyes
as dead as landmines.
The nights rise early nowadays.
My pulse races after the sun
to pass you the torchlight. But you,
you have a warm palm on the slender body
of a warm gun, the other over the mouth
of a loved one. On the night of the shooting,
you waved a kitchen knife
at the door. Your neck was rippling
against your dilated mouth
because someone had rung the bell
by mistake. This is Europe, ugly
but true. This is fear, her surname
mundane. In response, you walk the other way
to deescalate, carry yourself
like an arm carrying a wrist—
a fact of nature, nothing to hide.


I was a buoyant cocoon she carried
in the jellyfish bell. When she sang,

the tectonics would shift,
create an arm, fingers, me,

the multicellular explorer, piggy-
backing her movements, shadow

her lullabies. On the day of, the horizon
was the white of the hospice, the monotonal beeping.

She put on her socks, howled a war cry.
Outside, a pigeon was pecking flesh off a bone.


About the Author:

Tan Tzy Jiun is a Malaysian poet and theatre-maker based in Vienna, Austria. A graduate student of History, she is forthcoming in Fevers of the Mind, Stone of Madness Press and Second Chance Lit. She has been published in Eunoia Review, Fleas on the Dog, Nether Quarterly and Postscript Magazine. She is also a co-founder of Exit 11 Performing Arts. You can follow her on Twitter: @tzyjiun_

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