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Vacuum


In 2013, there were 319,325 migrant workers in Hong Kong. About half were Indonesian and nearly all were women. Recruitment and placement agencies, in Indonesia and Hong Kong respectively, are routinely involved in the trafficking of migrant workers and their exploitation in conditions of forced labor.
Exploited for Profit, Failed by Governments (Executive Summary), Amnesty International, 2013

The moon blue, shy
at first to know you now croons
for your childhood
spoon. Its edge and back
once sliced, mashed a world
into bites and paste fitful
for your mouth that,
over the years, has learned
about survival,
though later you know
habits form territories, though
questions, not meanings,
remain. You, no
longer amused by the spoon’s
plastic handle of faded
giraffes, choose to sweat
in Hong Kong streets, eat
take-outs with chopsticks
that do not split
like win-win situations.

It takes a romantic to say
extroverts need a large world
to perch on love. You have
a new self, new feet, with which
you run to look
for the cause – why
a clock is losing
its hand to get to time
as time crushes
continuity. Your old
home’s ribs shaped
in that hour of leaving
like an hourglass.
You watched its waist,
where skin flakes fell.
It was a sign of slowed
pain. You have
a new Ma’am, who visits
the salon, returns every
Saturday with the same soufflé
hair-do that holds
the sweet shape of her youth
that has already leaped.

You want to adjust
time, but it adjusted
others around you: a limp,
an unhearing, here
and there, enormous
maternal skins wounding
into a maze. Because everybody
surrenders in the same way, you left
your arms at the entrance.

A cobra imitates a collar
and says constraint is fine
so long as it is gentle.
An octave of pleading
makes begging
musical. How hard
does forgiveness scratch? What if
returning home means blanks
to fill? Would you foil?
Humpback whales are mammal
jukeboxes, each song
twenty minutes long. How short
are your regrets that you keep
in a jar with the herbs?
Mermaid are scaled and wet
with brine in the West, they sauté
tales. But you cook fish,
married the common type. Which
of your lungs bursts
when you surface
from the deep to feed
others’ sons, with fins that grow
fingers calloused and lost?

[mid-notes]
53 out of 54 interviewees were not properly informed about the recruitment fees they would
have to pay
60 per cent believed a mop got into the habit of drying
41 out of 79 wondered why homes insisted on windows
34 out of 62 did not trust windows or temples painted in gold
The same 34 had to wash clothes, clean the living quarters or take care of the children of the
staff and/or the owner of the recruitment agency
57 out of 57 responded to the phenomenon that tires of school buses moaned like babies
mistakenly fed with rice
35 out of 81 discovered there was language in SETTINGS, there was language in
27 per cent discussed whether it was possible to say different things in the same voice, same  
breath
26 out of 29 tended not to think it was odd for Hong Kongers to say
Have you eaten yet
   instead of Hi
11 out of 40 were getting more pocket-conscious
79 per cent thought ‘She
only likes Caucasians’ implied either a problem or symptom
4 out of 37 wished they would wake up as a four-year-old and crying in the morning was
   acceptable
6 out of 51 studied science before arrival and knew the tighter a hen’s vagina, the smaller the
eggs she laid

The placenta, for example, understands
parodies. A lump of tissues launching
the script of much loneliness.
If the night is blood, the day wakes.
I wake to a language delayed, a slaughter
of nouns to select colours. The true story
is that flags are an assertion of the blowing
winds, as if to mean each rising was enclaved
by practice and reflection. My medical
record is clean, no allergy, been bitten
by dentures of dogs, your country’s teeth.
What else can I declare to your loudness of fortunes?

What else can I crush besides garlic, histories
and hormones? My ovaries not more occult
and my eggs not any mosaic than hers. Look,
these cams are watching if your hands open things
they should not
,
she said, not knowing he, the one
who picked me, had already filmed me. He saw
my fingers between my legs, a brown visual
motif. Unearthed. Some sockets and I have two
legs. When they choked the vacuum cleaner’s tube
into my mouth, I was just a make-happy
machine. I made them a happier machine.
Since I lied, they took out the truth
detector all the time.
Wash grandma
before chemo. Don’t frown, I have seen you. Buy your own
bowl. Table is for us, you eat by the stove. No Jesus
behind this door, I have seen you. Don’t leave
the tap running. Don’t run. I keep your passport.
No Skyping your sisters at night. No night
is purely your night. Don’t switch your tone, don’t switch
on the Wi-Fi yourself, I have seen you.
Don’t act like a man with your boots on Sundays,
I have seen you. Don’t kiss your friends. They are friends.
We are family. There are things lips should not do.
A tub told by a bath that feeling is not
in its design has its desire of holding
to hold. The fabric of
selendang clads you
in with an anthem, loose, rhythmic, about home.
I consume gaps into resistance. I, yes,
daughter of textures, thin as ventilation.
I am restricted to lists strictly odd, yet
manicure helps. The edge of nails smoothed and round
like the norm. I paint them red in splotched August,
your month of Hungry Ghost. Why should I be scared
if I dust, curse to your altar each day but survive?<

I have flip-flops, clogged pores in your homework.
Match my image with A MAID, my madeness makes
your home work. Your kids call me eight woman.
You say if I enough ginger I can talk
back. Grandma steals chips, murmurs, mostly, fry squid
if I report string. If I triple my strength,
I dare they
have teeth. Ten years ago, I left
home to
do the world. I see road carefully,
face green green, walk walk stand stand, each day is gone.
I
have seeds that grow into debts which are sewn
into a fence. Behind it, I thin to contradict rust.


From Griffith Review Edition 49: New Asia Now © Copyright Griffith University & the author.

Griffith Review