The House of the Faithful
Joie-Ting Jing Ng
a poem by Joie-Ting Jing Ng
This piece is dedicated to A Thousand Years of Good Prayer by Yiyun Li.
It takes five hundred years of prayers for strangers to pass by each other in this life,
Popo arranges offerings on the family shrine.
Oranges, apples and fluffy pink cakes.
I stare at my ancestor’s red plaque, wondering if he's eating the food on the altar, nourishing his spirit in his afterlife.
Popo prays for our future, my cousins' and mine.
For our safety, our success, our happiness.
I watch the ashes of the burning incense collecting into the pot.
A mountain of ashes that is never emptied, years of fervent devotion condensed into a deep red bowl.
It's said a thousand years of prayers are needed to be born into a good family.
I look up into the cold ceramic eyes of the idol.
Mother Kuan Yin, Mother of Mercy.
Blocking out the screams and the shoves.
It's about gambling this time.
Bloody murder raging in veins, fire breathed into the room.
I sit in front of the altar, paralyzed in fear.
I wonder if popo prays to Mother Kuan Yin for peace, the same peace I pray for with my God.
If popo stares helplessly into her beady eyes, the same way I cry while staring into Jesus's eyes.
My migraine throbs against my temple as the screaming intensifies, more people join in the fight.
The shrill tongues of Hakka lashing at each other.
I start to hear sobs.
I want to sob.
Part of me is thankful I'm the youngest. I can pretend like nothing happened, that my words make no impact, that I will hold no obligation in this war and the next.
I'll escape the moment I have an opening, as I usually do.
I'll lie in my bed next to gugu and across popo.
Listening to crickets and smelling the dung from our neighbor's pigs waft by.
Wondering if reincarnation is real.
If we were all horrible Buddhists, who performed horrible prayers.
A short piece on the complex familial and religious relationships in Asian households.
Joie is an American-born Malaysian Chinese college student. Her work mainly focuses on race, familial relationships and mental health in the Asian community.
Cover Photo Source: Lion's Roar