Pantoum for Chinese Women

BY SHIRLEY GEOK-LIN LIM

A poem for Chinese mothers who were forced to slay daughters. “At present, the phenomena of butchering, drowning and leaving to die female infants have been very serious.” (The People's Daily, Peking, March 3rd, 1993)

 

They say a child with two mouths is no good.

In the slippery wet, a hollow space,

Smooth, gumming, echoing wide for food.

No wonder my man is not here at his place.

 

In the slippery wet, a hollow space,

A slit narrowly sheathed within its hood.

No wonder my man is not here at his place:

He is digging for the dragon jar of soot.

 

That slit narrowly sheathed within its hood!

His mother, squatting, coughs by the fire's blaze

While he digs for the dragon jar of soot.

We had saved ashes for a hundred days.

 

His mother, squatting, coughs by the fire's blaze.

The child kicks against me mewing like a flute.

We had saved ashes for a hundred days.

Knowing, if the time came, that we would.

 

The child kicks against me crying like a flute

Through its two weak mouths. His mother prays

Knowing when the time comes that we would,

For broken clay is never set in glaze.

 

Through her two weak mouths his mother prays.

She will not pluck the rooster nor serve its blood,

For broken clay is never set in glaze:

Women are made of river sand and wood.

 

She will not pluck the rooster nor serve its blood.

My husband frowns, pretending in his haste

Women are made of river sand and wood.

Milk soaks the bedding. I cannot bear the waste.

 

My husband frowns, pretending in his haste.

Oh clean the girl, dress her in ashy soot!

Milks soaks our bedding, I cannot bear the waste.

They say a child with two mouths is no good.

 

 

Born Malaysia, 1944-