Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context
Issue 4, September 2000

Poems by
Shirley Geok-lin Lim
Having arrived at
the celestial kingdom, I
Refuse to enter.

Even now they live on wet boards
in Aberdeen, once nameless,
unCeltic, an inlet of water
safer than shore. Lured to land
sons and daughters forget the east wind
and the north. Somewhere, grandfather
had passed through, looking for Nanyang.
A woman of my family waited
for the patched junk sails to fill.
I am walking backwards into China
where everyone looks like me
and no one is astonished my passport
declares I am foreign, only envious
at my good luck. Speechless, without
a tongue of China, I remember
grandfather's hands, grandma's tears.
On Causeway Bay, a hundred thousand
cousins walk beside me, a hundred
hundred thousand brothers and sisters.

My body is blossoming with bruises,
red and blue flowers large as
Hong Kong dollar coins or dim sum
hargow dumplings. Lumps
leap up where I've been bitten.
I'm spotted red and blue like an open
yam at the end of two weeks in Hong Kong.
Accident-prone, I hang on
through one a.m. to five-thirty
in the morning, to watch the watery
mists shred like raw cotton from Lama,
Cheng Chou, and Lantau; and the real China
to the north. I am afraid of this China,
unseen estrangement of strangers
from whose lives I'm supposed to make
my story. How do we learn to take
in identity after identity,
swallowing identities and history
to save us from contagion
of losses and predatory nations?
In the City of Life anapheles
mosquitoes bite, and hardness
scars within, even if I'm not thinking
that something violent is happening
somewhere out of sight, even as I sit here,
safe on the wrong side of the border.

Marble and Peonies
This is the scene poets and painters make
of in the classical tradition:
two hundred and sixty green peaks and stones
floating over a vaporous sea,
junks, lighters, and big ships like minor
islands adrift, and the silver sheen
of morning light on the open water
of the South China Sea. Distance saves us
from reality, and the mysterious
becomes a luxury we can envy.
Down on the ground, bus drivers lurch
their stickshifts toward Central's towers,
and the cursing ferrymen
are casting off the cable ropes as
everyone seems to be traveling
from bed to work, from island to island.
Close up, sweat shines and sticks; no one's
It was the emperor who loved the beauties
of mist and distance, the corruption
of the harem. His fringed kingdom
wavers between ground and sky,
decomposing marble and peonies.


This paper was originally published in Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context, with the assistance of Murdoch University.

This page has been optimised for 800x600
and is best viewed in either Netscape 2 or above, or Explorer 2 or above.
From February 2008, this paper has been republished in Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific from the following URL:

HTML last modified: 30 May 2008 1300 by: Carolyn Brewer.

Shirley Geok-lin Lim is the copyright owner for this page. No part of it may, in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or any other means, be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or be broadcast or transmitted without the prior written permission of the copyright owner.