Zodiacs and Joss Paper


April Lim

There’s something to be said

Of a family based on superstitions,

How uneven numbers and a lucky year

Are the reasons for my existence.

They say four in Chinese is synonymous with death,

But didn’t stop my mother from having number four,

Claiming even numbers were always the best, and

1995 was the year of the golden boar.

There’s something to be said

Of a family based on superstitions.

Hearing my grandfather’s disbelief in ghosts

Raised my own suspicions.

My grandfather used to believe in ghosts,

A young husband at the age of 20,

Too scared to pee alone at night,

Dragged his wife with him for company.

They say a ghost rises from its grave on the third night after burial,

After their firstborn daughter’s death seven years after her birth,

My grandfather disappeared away at night,

Returning four days later, dusted with earth.

They say missing his only daughter, he spent three nights at her grave

To speak to her once more before she ascended.

Throat filled with sorrows and eyes hollow, he returned

With nothing but his belief in ghosts suspended.

There’s something to be said

Of a man who never breaks from tradition,

Every year, every Ching Ming,

Nothing but joss paper in mint condition.

They say my grandfather visited her grave each year,

Until the war began and my family fled from home,

Leaving everything behind but the clothes on their back,

And his eldest daughter buried all alone.

There’s something to be said

Of a man who never breaks from tradition,

Home remedies for sickness would do

When there were no access to physicians.

My father tells the story with bitterness that

Left nothing but a sour taste in his mouth,

How our family was treated like prisoners,

And I know this is where his hatred had sprouted .

There’s something to be said

Of a man broken from tradition,

Cremated and buried behind a foreign temple,

When war hands in another addition.

They say something good can come from the bad,

How my grandfather’s death brought something anew,

But superstitions can be nonsense sometimes.

Incense and prayers don’t make you immune.

There’s something to be said

Of a granddaughter trying to break from tradition.

A clash of luck brought me out,

A series of unlikely juxtapositions:

A zodiac based on ancient stories,

And ideals too stubborn for Chinese superstitions.

My mother doesn’t know my life went against her word,

My luck is nonexistent and my year isn’t of gold.

1995 is the year of the wooded pig.