Jill Chan

What To Believe

                When I woke up, I feel a pain in my body. I know it was not there when I went to sleep last night. It is a diffused pain. Neither here nor there. It is not in my shoulders, not in my knees, not in my feet, not in my arms, not in my heart, not in my head. But where is it? Something about it is hesitant to be named. Hesitant even to be pointed out. What should I do to it if I find it?
                What do people do with their pain? I am too in pain to want to give it away once I find it. I am not that generous. Perhaps if I played with it a little, if I cared for it more than to draw from it, I'd want it here and gone.
                But what did the night bring with it? Was it just the pain? Something besides the pain is answering. Now that I'm in pain, I cannot count on it to answer but only to deteriorate into intolerance. I cannot help it. I cannot help it to be something now that I've felt it. It is just pain. Pain is there to be endured and healed. Pain is there to be presumed upon. To put pressure on it doesn't relieve it. To succumb to it with your cries, you bring it awake, like you are now calling upon it.
                To be free. That is what you want. To be free from the pain you did not cause. While you turn away from your husband, you answer his cause for him. What does it matter now the things you said yesterday, now that you're in pain and he has nothing to do with it but that he should help you relieve it. Please be good to me, you say with your pain. Can't you see what you didn't do?
                For pain is a curious thing, it cannot be seen. It cannot be heard. It cannot be held or touched or improved upon. You cannot be sure of anything with pain. It is worse than a visitor. It is worse than a teacher who teaches. It is worse than your worst enemy or faithful friend. You do not want to be friends with your pain. You cannot. No matter who tells you to welcome it, you push it away as best you can, like a bitter cup of medicine. Pain is something that keeps on knocking. You go again and again to answer it but without end, you open the door.


I was born deaf. For me, the whole world is a silent movie. All my experiences are bright and inventive. A shadow is a mystery beyond all else. Touching someone's hand is a deep erotic expression. Kissing is as intense as eating.

When I was a child, I was so lonely in my world of silence, of deadness, of attenuated discussions in my mind. There was no relation like sound, they tell me.

That's why I turned to writing. I talk with the words I write sometimes. This may sound strange. Maybe I should say: I consider the words I write as a method of thinking through, as conversation, as fantasy, as delight, as suspense, as terrible instances as intense as danger or love.

It is indeed lonely.

I began to think of the things I am missing: Music—They say music is like a waterfall of sound, luscious, magical sounds. Poetry—like a cavalcade of horses trotting, or something even beauty couldn't capture. Nature—little nervous sounds; big rushes; slow, importune moments; striking levelling sounds; rustles and chirping.

Last night, I walked under the sky. The moon was full and aching. The night revelling in silence. I suddenly felt something like an accident hit me. There is much beauty in my life—beauty that not many could experience. A pure silence that stretches my soul in increments.

It's a different experience.

I blame myself sometimes. I'd think that God must be punishing me. God who is all good, all knowing, all present.

Is any part of me accepting this sad silence?

The little hope in me answers in the silence like a light, a star. I stretch out both my arms and turn and face myself.


There's nothing deaf
about not listening,
about taking other people's words,
and wasting their presence
like you own them.
They just disappear.
Everything to be heard
for the last time.
A voice then is known
for the way it leaves—
action dissolves to memory
if not picked up
like some afternoon shadow.
If suddenly without words,
I come to you.

from Silence


There’s meaning
in the sky,
in the grey turnings
of life.
I drink warm
water to soothe
my coughs.
I think.
The facts of living
come suddenly
in a rush,
in bony silence.
What searching,
what arresting way
the ways time stops.
Silence is not a stop.
It is a start
to something,
something new,
something that marks
the place.


Sometimes we are reminded
quite unexpectedly
of so much that is not ours.
Then, forgetting for a moment
our emptiness,
something blacker
than hunger,
or something that we cannot
strive to be,
we sit
and let nothing be ours,
just the notion,
the death or
birth of a moment.


Life isn’t only a waiting.
Or just a struggle.
It should be a wonder.
A mountain is a mountain.
Why are we not the clouds?
the rivers?
the places that can end?

But It Is Difficult

The little wants
that push us forward
sometimes stay,
sometimes go.
They are not what
we are about.
The day doesn’t budge
in its enormity.
We live in its increments.
Only sometimes,
by accident,
do we die in it,
do we stop it
with our life.

Life of the Writer

                I am not a real writer. I just write what comes to me. Expression or a way to stifle it? At any rate, I write for my own pleasure. Which is to say, I write nothing. Or nothing which can be understood as such. Even I can't understand it sometimes.
                Like today, I was with a friend. We were talking about writing. And he said, “Am I in your novel? If I am, make me handsome, make me beautiful and irresistible.” He said it half-laughing. But I know he was at some point in this serious. Don't we all want to be beautiful in real life? And being beautiful in a novel is a way to compensate for the real.
                And even beauty can be made in a novel. As sometimes we cannot in life.
                I am a romantic writer, true. But what comes after the romance is what fascinates me. A lover dying is the most beautiful scene I want to write. The most beautiful scene I have yet to write.
                Much more if dying from wasted trust or ardour. A passage where a lover dies beautifully to his beloved must be convincing to be successful. Where he doesn't actually die but wants to, for her. But that is a rare passage where the writer doesn't think of herself as a writer but as someone in the scene dying along with her characters.
                I was dying once, by mistake. Death is always a mistake. And dying, more so. I was diagnosed with a rare blood disease. They said I could die in a month or in a year. Death is so hurried, so sure of itself. And I was ready to die. But my resignation was put to a standstill when they discovered that the disease was gone. This, after months of worry, of wanting to quicken the end. For if I couldn't live the life I wanted, I might as well stop it.
                This was when I stopped work and lay in bed all day, moping about my life cut short by circumstances, by conditions. I was ready to die, in short. But even then, I had hoped to continue, to someday wake up and find myself free. From expectation. The expectation of death.
                But when the good news came, I didn't expect it. In fact, I didn't welcome it. To be given a second chance like that, who would not want that?
                But I was foolish. I still am. I was ready to die like the characters in a future novel. The potential is greater than the actual. I love that. I love how life is full of promise. And I have none now. I believed I was near death, that frightened me. Now that fear has made me bored with living. The sting of death has become the dull thud of boredom. I don't see it as a triumph, I see it as hope gone wrong.
                For if I die, it will be forever. What is preventing me dying tomorrow, or the day after. People die by accident all the time.
                Is it then a fear of life which a fear of death has shown me?
                I can no longer write. What is the use? I cannot really live in my characters. I cannot really die in them either. Reality has left me floundering. Is it a measure of cowardice? Am I a coward?
                I was brave in the face of death. Now I have become nothing in the face of life. What went wrong?
                To be shown death too early too long, that has made me give up.
                I lied when I said I don't write anymore. I do. But I find nothing there. Not what life wants from me nor what death has revealed to me. Only that success is measured by what gets written. Not by the number of readers. Being near death has taught me that. For life is lived every day unceremoniously.
                Beauty lives. Beautifully.

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