Renee Liang
Aotearoa/ New Zealand

Cover Image - Pauline Wu 2017
Migrant song


long ago or yesterday
we came on dragons
of water
of wind
golden scales rippling
as we fell

now we search
for wings in the
long white cloud

ribbons of earth
wound around
our wrists,

the taste of kumara
in our mouths.


hot oil and frozen chips
hiss of laundry steam
hum of industrial vacuums
blood trickling from carcasses.


hybrid roots
grow strong
in this rich soil.


our children
are godwit chicks
catching the eastern winds
strings stretched
across oceans.

written for POP 2015

The Naming

let me tell you
the story of a man
I once heard of.
A man
an old man crouched
alone, over the phone
listening to the tin-pot tones
of his son, the tinny tin-pot lines
of transmission, translation,
magnified ten thousand times,
lines lined with words
to another country.
His son, in a savage white country.

Tropical noonday mist
mixes with truck fumes
mixes with old man bed smell
as the old man listens
to his son speaking
from the other side
of the world, traces the curved stem
of a pure white orchid
on his Hong Kong balcony
as his son says, “Dad, the baby
was born last night.
Baby, the word, baby, delivered
out of the plain black hole
of the telephone,
born in a riot of blossoming blood,
born to stem the haemorrhage,
born to patch a leaking dynasty,
born.  A baby born to bend
the world with his cry, to mark his patch
with piss from his thundering thighs,
to stand
ten thousand times
astride a whimpering world,
to stand there
and never once ask for directions.
A baby.
His first grandson.

The old man smiles
caresses his orchid.
His prize orchid,
the culmination of years of breeding,
blooms spilling slender and snowy
onto his small balcony.
The old man says,
so you want me to name my grandson?

The son says, Father, it’s a girl.
Our daughter.  She’s beautiful.
We’d like you to name her.

The old man’s hand stills
in its caress.  Light rain spatters
in through the window, falling
onto the cheeks of the old man,
the cheeks so thin you could
hold them up to the light
and trace the lines of yearning.
Light rain fingers his fingers
as his fingers tighten with a single


the head of the orchid, broken.
A snowy river, stemmed,
decapitated, disenfranchised,
disavowed, disinherited,
All those years of work

are you there, father?

The old man rides the waves
of his age, of his yearning, all those years of learning
now gone, filed away, defiled, defied.
He lifts his head to smell
the rain, the hot burn of tears
which start first, not in the eyes, but always
in the nostrils.  The old man reaches into himself
and touches his heart,
feels his heart beating,
and he feels that
it still beats strongly, and that
the colour of the blood
is his own blood. The old man
tastes the warm salt tang
of his tears, and it tastes
like blood, and he puts
his hoping heart away again
quietly, and he lifts
up the broken flowers
and through the prism
of his tears he sees
that they are still beautiful.

The old man sighs.
He unrolls the family scroll
and draws two flower buds
that bloom
into a profusion
of characters,
and he adds
his own special stroke,
a lucky stroke, a sign.
The old man
down the line,
down through time.

“Call her Win Wei,
the literary blossom,”
he says,

and the light rain falls
over my blossoming page.

first published in Chinglish (chapbook, Soapbox Press, 2007)

From where

where are you from
she asked
licking fat cream from the tips
of perfect manicures

and I said
actually, I live just around the corner.

no really she said
looking in her handbag for lip gloss
where are you from

and I said
from here
as if I didn’t know what she meant
the first time.

From here?
she said
one perfect eyebrow raised
as if she wanted to redo her eyeliner

and I said

and I knew
the next question.

oh she said
oh where are your parents from then
and I wanted to say

but I knew she wouldn’t believe me
so I said

and I could see her summing me up
origami eyelids
gilded skin
straight black hair
flat chest

I could see her
breathing in

in relief.

First published in Banana (chapbook, self published) 2008.

Renee Liang is a poet, playwright and lyricist.  She collaborates on visual arts works, film and music, and organises community arts events such as New Kiwi Women Write, a writing workshop series for migrant women. She is a long time contributor to The Big Idea website. Renee has written, produced and toured seven plays and published works including eight anthologies of migrant women’s writing.
In 2017 her work The Bone Feeder Opera (as librettist) premiered at Auckland Arts Festival to critical acclaim, and Dominion Rd The Musical (with composer Jun Bin Lee) was a sellout success. She won the Royal Society of NZ Manhire Prize for science writing in 2012, and a Sir Peter Blake Trust Emerging Leadership award in 2010. She has also won awards for her plays, and most recently a game design award for Golden Threads (with Allan Xia), an interactive historical narrative commissioned by Auckland Museum. 
Migrant song - Renee Liang