Yellow River, Milk River

By Hannah Lowe

If you ask me about ancestors I’ll tell you he weighted codfish down with salt
of Hakka people sold turning milk and musty cornflour. He offered credit to the
always moving, hounded down customers he robbed, angry ticks and crosses
from mountains by knives and blood on the yellowed ledger. But the women
down country to the Yellow River in the beauty parlour raised up their heads
and war with the Punti when he went by, believed those small bones made him
hakka, an insult spat until the Hakka took tender, not a man to rope a child or
the word back; about tough land, bad water stab a counter with a gutting knife
black rice, moving on again: Guangdong, Fujian, Jiangxi He had an inventory
of fortress villages, and the ships of wives he withered in the country, thirteen
that carried the Hakka from the rim of hungry children spread from Milk River
China to Surinam and Taiwan to Yallahs Bay. The youngest boy, a bed-wetter
how Hakka became guest worker he gave a dollar to and sent away, hitch-hiked
to Austria and Spain and Jamaica to Kingston and survived. The only photo is
where my grandfather stepped off the boat of his body in the mahogany coffin
of Hakka men asleep in the bright lights he saved two years for, suited on a bed
of the Chinese temple waiting for brothers, cousins, new lives of emerald silk
about my name, which is now your name too one daughter took it as a souvenir
from two ancestral villages, how there are 80 million Hakka people as proof
scattered in the world, how I found this all out for you at last that he was dead


Hannah Lowe, Chan (Bloodaxe Books, 2016). Reproduced with permission of Bloodaxe Books.