On Valleys
Kristy Kwok

I never learned how to lie in Cantonese.

I can lie in English,

second language coming second

nature without a second


banalities are easy when I’ve assimilated the border so easily

that when I say English is my mother tongue

it doesn’t feel like it isn’t true.

My mother’s tongue:

She scrubs at it with sandpaper like it’s the kitchen floor,

eroding the valleys of an ancient melody.

When I was young my tongue was sandpaper, too,

words in both languages trapped

behind the dam of a lisp and a stutter.

Chinese trickled into me, English poured out of me:

herbal tea twisting unconsciously

into creamy milk and honey.

This world, this promised land,

so different

from the one my grandmother hoped for.

My tongue climbs through a mouth that’s neither mountain nor valley,

searching for the place where this side of me ends

and that side of me begins.

If I ever find it, I’ll let English run a little looser across my teeth,

because it won’t have to fight

for a place inside me anymore.

One day I’ll make my bed

where the mountain meets the valley.

Maybe then I’ll know how to lie

in Cantonese.

On Valleys

I never learned how to lie in Cantonese.

Kristy Kwok is currently pursuing a BFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking and songwriting.

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