“Small Talk” by Johnson Cheu

Johnson Cheu


The café workers talk, the nice thing
About this pandemic is the silence, not
Having to make small talk with strangers.
Ironically, they’re making small talk.

I think of my mother, in the time before
Computer-aided language instruction,
When small talk was how to learn English.
Invented Chinglish: hot chocolate to hot chalk; jacket, jack.

My father who, in the forty years China was closed
To the West, always joked that one day he and his siblings
Would stand on opposing shores of China and Taiwan
Shouting small talk to each other across the Taiwan Strait.

My students who worry how they’ll keep
In touch with family in China if WeChat is banned.
How much our hearts warm with small talk.
How much grows cold in the silence.

from Poets Respond
August 11, 2020


Johnson Cheu: “As I prepare for remote teaching this upcoming year, I worry about particularly my international students and the strain on family relationships if WeChat is banned, at a time when familial connection is even more needed, more precious.”

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