Wednesday, April 18, 2018

NaPoWriMo Day 17: Credulous

Prompt: Write a poem re-telling a family anecdote that has stuck with you over time. 

I am starting to agree with the intrepid Jane Dougherty on feeling like the riderless horse that insists on staying in the race despite all attempts to make it give up and go away. This prompt SHOULD have been easy. Of course it wasn't.

Lin gou is the Cantonese for nian gao, or Lunar New Year cake. It's a dark glutinous round pudding-thing of a sticky sweet confection usually wrapped in lotus leaves, and during Lunar New Year, it's often sliced, battered, and fried with sliced yam or sweet potato, and rolled in freshly grated coconut. We used to have at least one or two hanging around the sideboard of my grandmother's house when I was a child.

Fei mui is, again, Cantonese, and literally translates to 'Fat girl'. There's another word in Mandarin Chinese that denotes 'chubby' - pang - but whenever the Cantonese refer to a chubby girl, it's always fei mui. No distinctions between chubby and fat, you're just...well, fat. (It was my nickname as a child for a short while. I hated it. I still do, but some things you just don't outgrow.)


My aunt told me lin gou could fly.
My youngest aunt, her soft black curls bouncy and bright as her step, her smile.
At night all the lin gou grow wings when you’re asleep
When you’re not looking. Then they flyyyyyy away.
Seven year olds are credulous. Favourite aunts are God.
I believed her.

My grandaunt is a vulture in thin skin
All black-rimmed glasses and flowered polyester.
Her mouth, small and disapproving
Wrinkles like a worm when she speaks.
Girl. You’re fatter than you were last time.
She turns her glittering black bead eyes to my grandmother
Pinches my arm, nods knowingly.
Fei mui. She knows how to hide her fat in her bottom.
She’ll look good in a cheongsam, girls with big bottoms do.
In Cantonese, there is no distinction between ‘fat’ and ‘chubby’.
The word is the same: fei. Fat.
Twelve year olds are insecurity wrapped in bad attitudes.
I believed her.

This morning my reflection in the mirror
Gives way to the pickled prune visage of my grandaunt
Shaking her bony witch’s finger at me.
Fei mui. You’re fatter than you were last time. Look at your fat bottom.
Adults are not credulous. Childish fancies have no place
Much less memories of long-dead, borderline-disliked relatives.

I still believe her.


Romana Iorga said...

Such a vivid poem, Shuku! Love this image:
"Her mouth, small and disapproving
Wrinkles like a worm when she speaks."

Shuku said...

Thank you so much Romana! She wasn't one of my favourite relatives; everything about her was...well, dessicated and wrinkled and bitter. I'm glad you enjoyed it, it was so hard to write!