Beggar, Slave, Fugitive, Slummer

My great-grandfather was a beggar’s heir,
A boy slave sold to the Wild West,
Who, with what twenty years of toiling spared,
Returned a bit richer and blessed.

My grandfather was born the rich man’s boy,
Who watched his mum lynched by a mob
And his father’s estate plundered, destroyed;
From the robbers’ jail he ran off.

My Dad was one of the fugitive’s sons:
Conceived in a converted morgue,
Born with a false name and little else, one
Piteous life the slum absorbed.

Here I wonder what will my story be—
A life of riches or of poverty?
Beggar, slave, fugitive, slummer and me—
Que sera, sera—what will be, will be.

 

Colin Lee

colin-lee-small

The featured image is a cherished old photo of my late grandfather, the “fugitive”. (To those unfamiliar with post-war history, no, Grandpa was not a criminal, only an unfortunate victim caught in a corrupted era.) Friends and I were playing Two Truths and a Lie at a Christmas party, wherein my family history came in quite handy to supply a handful of incredible truths; then I thought to myself I might as well wrap them up in a poem. Voila!

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21 thoughts on “Beggar, Slave, Fugitive, Slummer

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    1. Tales like my family’s probably aren’t that unique in Hong Kong, only that my Grandma took the time to compile them for us lads and lassies to peruse. Thanks for reading, nosaint. Have a wonderful new year!

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  1. Powerfully written. I questioned the last line, whether it was too flippant for such an epic. My thought is that in that stanza you are contemplating a life-changing question… a further thought… you are already part-way into that question and can answer it up till today… also, what can you say about your children that you already know (again, up to today).

    Don’t rewrite…. keep writing. The saga is not complete.

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    1. Heartfelt thanks for your thoughtful comment, Charley. You caught my Achilles heel spot on, that in the contemplation of the question I’m somewhat sapped of confidence and courage, thus the ambivalence and flippancy. With the epical footprints of my fathers left on the unwalkable history before me, now standing on the high ground of sufficiency, free from persecution and hardship and hunger and shame, here am I, feebly asking myself, “What now?” Suddenly, I feel lost, like in the middle of an epic page-turner when the author forgets to plant a cliffhanger or a plot device. I see greatness before me; I see greatness in my children; but what about me? Que sera, sera? I don’t know. Not a fan for New Year’s resolution, but perhaps this should give me some food for thought. Thank you for the encouraging word — yes, the saga is not complete!

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    1. Yes, it’s amazing I’m alive. Three of my great-grandfather’s brothers died en route to America. My grandfather, should he fail to escape from prison, could possibly be tortured to death. Grandma gave birth to Dad in utter starvation; if not for the charity of a neighbour, he could not have survived his first week of infancy.

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  2. Asian families especially Chinese have such deep and colourful history, I loved reading about your family shenanigans Colin! its good to pass these stories down to your kids so the legacy is carried forward. at breakfast today i told my kids some of the things their ancestors had got up to and I was surprised that they connected on a deeper level with some of the stories. beautifully crafted poem!

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      1. my dad is French, English and South Indian. my mother’s family are Hainanese, they were brought in to Malaya to mine for tin and work as cooks. Eventually they settled in a fishing village and became merchant fishermen. lots of interesting history when these two cultures met! i started writing tales from the equator based on all the stories i heard of as a child but got distracted, i should pick it up again. thank you for your interest Colin.

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      2. Interesting combination indeed — apparently it makes great storytellers too! 😉 Look forward to reading more about it in the new year.

        Family legend has it that my great-grandfather had a business in Malaya. Who knows, perhaps I even have cousins at the equator?

        Blessings to you and family in the new year, Gina. *hugs*

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  3. much blessings to you and the family too Colin, the new year is just around the corner and i hope it brings you peace and lots of new adventures. you never know our ancestors may even have crossed paths! our rich cultural background does give us lots of fuel for thought and ideas for stories. looking forward to reading more of you too in 2018.

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  4. What a beautiful photograph! Such a handsome young man and so much detail preserved in the photo – lovely. Your poem does a great job of encapsulating the unhappy events of the past – I hope your family treasures it as an important recounting of moments in time and that your future is less ‘que sera, sera’ and more “I made this!”

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    1. Sorry to reply a bit late, and thank you so much for reading and for this encouraging comment, Sabrina. Your thought resonated very well with me, especially after taking my two-year-old out hiking for the first time this past weekend. To my contentment, the little boy persisted without a grumble of fatigue until reaching the lookout at the end of our trail, where he proudly declared to the city beneath his feet, “I did it!” Perhaps his (not-so-) old man can learn a bit from him today. 😉

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