…on my sleep it is still raining
ash, flakes falling like memory…

‘Clear Brightness’ Boey Kim Cheng

On the first clear day, we set off
for the crematorium. I never knew
how she remembered which niche
housed her husband’s ashes, or what

she felt when faced with the blank oval
intended for her likeness when it was time.
The monk in his saffron robes lowered his head,
chanting, sweat beaded on his shaved pate.

No incense this time, no Taoist priest
with his flimsy sword. Just us: grandmother,
mother, granddaughter, and a hired man.
The mantra ended. Veined marble was no match

for stake and mallet. Blow after blow –
so much marble dust. I retrieved the glazed
photograph of my grandfather in his bespectacled,
benign years. My mother cleared aside

what was left of the plaque. Grandmother
reached into the cavity. I can’t recall the shape
and colour of the urn. Somehow, we were in
an open boat: women, girl, and boatman.

We picked out fragments of bone and released them
into the watery expanse. They fluttered out of sight
so rapidly. Then we upturned the urn and ashes
floated in the wake of our rowing. Did this mean

his spirit was now free? I clutched his photo so hard
it cut my palm. I stood up, crouched down low,
and lobbed it like a pebble. It skipped once, twice,
three times, then sank deep below the surface.

Chinese Singing

after Li-Young Lee

My grandmother cannot read
the words dancing across the screen,
lighting up in time with the music.

She sings from memory,
in the dialect of her youth:
the two of us walk in the rain

sharing a single small umbrella.
If my grandfather were alive
he would light a cigarette and draw

breath until the end glowed
into a fiery red, saying nothing.
It is my father’s turn, and he handles

the microphone as if it’s an old friend.
Beside the road, beneath the banyan tree
is a place I think of often. My mother smiles

and mouths the words in Mandarin,
soundlessly. She too cannot read Chinese.
The tranquil skies and the balmy breezes,

the sweet scent of the grass. I hear only
snatches of meaning in the few words
I understand. Meanwhile, I think on

the puzzle of my grandparents, fertile
and warm, lying together in the dark.
Of my parents, young, newly-burdened

and afraid, whispering each other to sleep.
The rain falls around us with great intensity.
We must walk with care, under the one small umbrella.

It is my turn to sing. I don’t know
any Chinese songs, so I sing in English.
My family is listening.

Eileen Chong

Eileen Chong was born in Singapore and grew up speaking English, Mandarin and Hokkien. She studied English language and literature at the National Institute of Education in Singapore and taught for three years in Singapore before moving to Sydney in 2007. She has a Master of Letters from the University of Sydney and is pursuing a Doctorate in Creative Arts at the University of Western Sydney.

Visit here to buy The Uncommon Feast (2018), her new book of essays, recipes and poems from our friends in Canberra at Recent Work Press.

And over here, you can buy Another Language (2017) the volume of her selected poems published in New York by George Braziller .



Peony (paperback)
Peony (paperback)
Paperback with French Flaps. B format 128 x 198 mm. 92 pages. Full colour cover.
ISBN 978-1-922080-28-8.
Price: A$25.00
Postage :

Eileen Chong’s new collection of poetry Peony  was launched by Martin Langford at the Tilbury Hotel in Woolloomooloo on Sunday 30th March 2014 at 3pm.

Three poems from Peony

Chinese Singing


Only a Peony

Burning Rice (second edition)

Burning Rice, 2nd edition (pocket paperback)
Burning Rice, 2nd edition (pocket paperback)
Pocket paperback. 110 x 160 mm. 64 pages. Full colour cover.
ISBN 978-1-922080-26-4.
Eileen Chong's first poetry collection has now been reprinted by Pitt Street Poetry in a convenient pocket paperback format.
Price: A$20.00
Postage :
Burning Rice (e-book in e-pub format)
Burning Rice (e-book in e-pub format)
ISBN 978-1-922080-27-1 .
This e-book is compatible with most e-book readers except for the Amazon Kindle.
Price: A$5.00
Burning Rice (e-book in Kindle format)
Burning Rice (e-book in Kindle format)
ISBN 978-1-922080-27-1.
This e-book is compatible with the Amazon Kindle.
Price: A$5.00

These poems were written while Eileen Chong was an Australian Poetry Fellow in 2011–2012, mentored by Anthony Lawrence.   The book was edited by Judith Beveridge, who taught Eileen Chong poetry in a higher degree program at the University of Sydney

In 2012 Burning Rice was highly commended for the Anne Elder Award for a first collection of poetry published in Australia.  In June 2013 it was shortlisted for the Prime Minster’s Literary Award for poetry.

The first edition of Burning Rice was published by Australian Poetry in 2012 as part of its New Voices series and sold out in record time.  Pitt Street Poetry is proud to issue the second edition of this popular collection in a convenient pocket paperback format.

Three Poems from Burning Rice

Burning Rice

After Pintauro

Mid-autumn Mooncakes