on accented english

my po po taught me to pray when i was six,
coarse hands fumbling over baby blue rosary beads.
in broken english,
she mumbles words she cannot herself fully understand.

(i think about the picture of Jesus that hangs on my auntie’s wall –
we call him “Handsome Jesus”, light eyes, soft brown hair, white as day,

and wonder out loud:
is there such thing as the Rice of Life?)

our prayers are a cacophony of joyful noise. we sing. we dance. we knock things over, exclaiming in chinese, or malay, or richly accented english,
how great is our Lord.

(a scene:
my po po’s church friends praying the rosary at my gong gong’s wake.
words i cannot understand –
tin zhu seng mo ma li ya
and wails i wish i couldn’t.)

i begin to understand what it means to pray words you cannot fully understand,
to say nothing,
and everything,

and to be made
of sounds and smells and words and songs, the death of a man
that means nothing,
and everything,

as i look around at the faces in my church –
at my family, brown and yellow specks on a colorless canvas –

Gentiles in our own promised land.


Amelia Khoo is a senior at Brown University studying Biomedical Engineering.