Poem: Fricatives

Eric Yip’s Fricatives Wins UK National
Poetry Competition

by Eric Yip

To speak English properly, Mrs.Lee said, you must learn
the difference between three and free. Three men
escaped from Alcatraz in a rubber raft and drowned
on their way to Angel Island. Hear the difference? Try
this: you fought your way into existence. Better. Look
at this picture. Fresh yellow grains beaten 
till their seeds spill. That’s threshing. That’s
submission. You must learn to submit
before you can learn. You must be given 
a voice before you can speak. Nobody wants to listen
to a spectacled boy with a Hong Kong accent.
You will have to leave this city, these dark furrows
Stuffed full with ancestral bones. Know
that death is thorough. You will speak of bruised bodies
skinnier than yours, force the pen past batons 
and blood, call it fresh material for writing. Now
they’re paying attention. You’re lucky enough 
to care about how the tongue moves, the seven types
of fricatives, the articulatory function of teeth 
sans survival. You will receive a good education
abroad and make your parents proud. You will take
a stranger’s cock in your mouth in the piss-slick stall 
of that dingy Cantonese restaurant you love and taste
where you came from, what you were made of all along.
Put some work into it, he growls. C’mon, give me
Some bite. Your mother visits one October, tells you 
how everyone speaks differently here, more proper.
You smile, nod, bring her to your favourite restaurant,
Order dim sum in English. They’re releasing
the students arrested five years ago. Just a tad more
soy sauce please, thank you. The television replays 
yesterday on repeat. The teapots are refilled. You spoon
served rice into your mouth, this perfect rice.
Steamed, perfect, white.