From the Amber Pot

 

i.

Mama boils lotus roots and pork ribs soup
in an amber-stained glass pot.
Set on the stove,
married with dried dates and dark orange goji berries
as the moon bids goodbye,
before a second pair of feet leaves their blanket’s warmth
—hexagon cut-outs of scrap fabric
from the floor of a tailor’s stall in Kelantan that she stitched together like an open wound.
Patchwork handwashed and hung
near the hibiscus bush that needs a haircut,
for us to lay over
if the heat from the day ceased to go away
or under when the monsoons greeted in late October.

She shuffles in the kitchen, then up the stairs.
On weekdays she shakes me awake with her thin fingers,
the colour of a perfect ratio of milk and coffee
from the kopitiam downtown.
On weekends she fetches her coin purse,
a lovely blue and white batik, its closure two full moons
and goes to the wet market near the house we used to live in.
She returns with dates, roots, and herbs,
the colours of next week’s soups

She keeps the soup on a low fire until my parents return from work
or until 7.15 in the evening.
Every forty pots of soup cost us a new tank of gas.
The steps of the delivery man are quick. Into the kitchen then out.
Mama’s steps from the stove to the dining room are slow,
like the tinkles of a windchime.
Amber pot in her hands,
she looks like a witch carrying a cauldron.
She sets it at the centre of the dining table
and ladles a bowl for my brother.

ii.

The quiet haunts quite like the night.
A casket,
the medallion of the room with dark wood against
out of season white roses that adorn a photograph. Her smile so lovely,
metal lodged in her heart like her presence in mine.
Detached from the sorrow that looms it no longer beats as
Amazing Grace
plays, forever she’ll be with me.

iii.

A child cries for their mother between
the towers of canned braised peanuts and dried noodles.
The aisles are so tall no one can read the labels
of the bottles up above. A mother calls a name,
a head of ebony appearing like crows at our school windows.
The child is lost no longer, tears drying up as if
Malaysia’s sun was upon her cheeks.
Chubby fingers cling to a thumb, wrapped around so tight
as sounds of my mother tongue fill the air.
My hands are empty,
apart from a bottle of oyster sauce. I cling to it for I see my eyes
in that child’s teary ones.

To have lost someone, for at times that someone
to have been me. Between moments
when I am no longer who I used to be, yet
not who I want to become, I buy a block of tofu.
For on a silken pillow of white, where the scent of scallions, garlic and sesame oil lay,
comfort comes
through the taste of my mother tongue. Its language foreign, yet its taste familiar.
On rainy evenings that remind me of home,
I brew a familiar potion. No amber pot nor measurements, but Mama’s blood
running through my veins. The memory of her delicate hands
sifting through the plastic-lined cardboard box of herbs.
The scent of home and a bowl of warmth. One sip
calms the anxious quiet within me and as I count the days
until spring comes again. Perhaps white roses will bloom for a
different occasion. To have found instead.


Artist Statement

‘From the amber pot’ was written with the themes of disconnection and acceptance in mind.  It portrays the inner reflections of a young Malaysian girl living in Australia, bringing together lost, grief, and familial love. Through a nostalgic and gentle voice, the poem ruminates on the past from Malaysia and present in Australia, intertwining the experience of finding one’s way in life and the tangible memories of home.

This poem shows the emotional and mental location of its subject as well as the past, present and hopefulness for the future. It also highlights an important element in Malaysian culture—food. A language like no other. The portrayal of comfort food tied with memories of the subject’s grandmother shows healing and grounding oneself. Personal yet relatable, the author hopes this piece brings forward the emotive experience of connecting with one’s roots, even if it’s through a block of tofu.

Jane Young

Author: Jane Young

A recent graduate with a Master in Writing and Literature, specialising in Creative Writing, Jane is a writer and art enthusiast from Malaysia. Having previously been published in Verandah Literary and Art Journal, a publication affiliated with Deakin University, Jane seeks to produce more creative works in her writerly voice to share her art through her lens. With hopes of advocating for Asian representation, women empowerment and self-love, her pieces range from fantastical short stories to reflective poems surrounding memories dear to her.

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