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  • Thomas Kam


Who were they?

They are nothing, now.

What is memory?

Fragments of time, name, place;

Heirlooms from

That strange country:


My grandfather (Ah Kong)'s watch,

[Awarded to Datuk Kam U Tee

on the occasion of his retirement



Stepping out of the airport

The wall of wet heat and car

Horns, the sweet aroma of

Warm sewage, dim sum,



The door,

Painted purple,

(later brown (after the firemen came)) of

22 Fairfield Avenue

behind which:


Sunflowers peeking over olive green fences

Yorkshire pudding, rising slowly in the oven

This week’s Beano annual (1970)

(purchased at The Red Cross Bookshop

[Bath Rd, Cheltenham, Glos])



a slab, a body, a boy

Seeing a corpse for the first time,

Shivering in the cold morgue -

My father, drawing the thin plastic curtain,

mumbling “I’ll give you a moment…”

I kissed her forehead.

I wish I knew how to say goodbye

In a language she can understand.

Where is memory?


“Flat 3, Stanley House”, ()

I was eleven years old,

Writing a sonnet for English

She said: “I’ve always loved the word lambent…




(The name of a cottage in Cornwall)

Where she taught me to knit,

Where we half-finished puzzles

Where my mother whispered

“This might be the last time,

So be nice!”

It had a garden, where I played pretend

Battles with imagined demons,

Whilst the tin kettle whispered on the Aga

And the rain knocked gently on the door,

asking "

Who was he?

Ah Kong is

Sat on the other side of the chessboard.

He tries to hide his smile

17. Rxh5

murmurs “checkmate.”

I topple my white King

And set up the pieces again

(minus “black queen” (to make it fair))


a deathbed

5 voices:

my mum, my dad, my grandma ("Ah Ma"), maricel, myself;

But come ye ba-aack,

When summer’s in the meadow,

Or when the valley's hushed and white with snow

'Tis I'll be he - [Ah Ma’s voice breaks] -aaere

in sunshine or in shadow,

[the beep is slowing down]

Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy…


Sitting alone, tonight

In front of the fire,

Playing chess with myself,

Trying not to win

How is memory?

A poem,

Buried inside a notebook,

Locked in a box in the attic[


“... and though the lambent sun may set tonight,

When people go, the things they leave behind

Are memories, their tracks on our minds”

T.K. Meadley,

aged 13 1/2]


A poem,

Written 10 years older

Trying to remember things he said,

Or the way she laughed

(before the pill boxes,

the care home visits,

the late night phone calls),

Or who I was.


What is memory?

It’s a place I had forgotten -

A thing forever lost,

A mess of names and smells and pictures

Some remembered, some not -

Until I hear a whisper on the breeze


Turn to find myself alone,

With a handful of ashes

On an empty moor:

“Daisy Field”,

(or something like that)

(Where Joan and Thomas Donald

Used to lie together

And blow the stamen from dandelions

And laugh

And make faces out of clouds)

Where we scattered her.

What do I remember about the night she died?

We were playing “Settlers of Catan

The phone rang

My mum answered

Came back in flustered

“They think this might be it...”

I rolled my eyes, Annoyed more than anything

Begrudgingly gettinf in the car

More phone calls

Dark building rush past

The empty car park

A white room, a white curtain

The look on my father’s face.

I knew, then.


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