The Comfort Women
Throughout history, through the Massacre of Nanjing to the present, women and young girls have been forced into wartime brothels.
—United Nations Commission On Human Rights
In the days after my father sold me,
I crawled inside my fist,
the darkest space and small enough
to hold me.
Under the rice paper lamp,
in the fogged mirror, past teeth-scarred nipples,
cigarette-branded bellies, the child's skin
Comfort, we are called.
But who will comfort the cloth
when the needle burns through?
My sisters, we are raw-cut pages
torn from books of poetry, from China,
Taiwan, Korea, The Phillipines,
thrown under the hooves of war
where they lean weapons against the doors,
split us and spill themselves.
Red silk fantasies, we belong
to the stories brutes tell one another.
Our names are lost. The sky rains them
over the roofs of our village,
seven hills away. We are part of the place
where the eyes of animals hunt
The bones of murdered Nanjing women tick
inside these walls. Some, like me
were bought and sold. Some bloomed
on a bayonet.
On the western horizon,
mother and daughter flash
among thorn roses. Nothing
can soothe their flames.
A temple bell thumps its fist
against time. Time means nothing
when it is all there is.
My sisters, we will not forget
how we gathered the hearts
that fell from us, gave them ritual fire
and prayer. In the dim future
they will claim us.
Are my mother's shoulders still shaking
beneath the table lamp
as my father paces, his fist full of yen,
I have done right by our daughter,
a workhouse for her is better than starvation
for us all...
I never learned to make Lo Mein
the way my mother stirred duck liver broth,
lifting the spoon like an oar, mid river,
the fragrant simmer as sparks from a wood fire
struck the cold furnaces of the sky.
I never learned to wash a child's
upturned face. Night birds devoured
my seeds. Or to scratch a man's back—
The moon, an unsheathed dagger,
scrapes the sky over seven hills
and this house. Gun smoke rattles my sleep.
I see my mother's eyes behind the curtain
of her hair,
and my father's boat and captive cormorants,
their throats tied with string.
To fish all day and never feed, never taste
what's taken to tongue. Is this the way
with the world?
Forced to follow war, we comfort
the fire riders, sweat-necked, Sake-breathed,
divided from themselves, galloping
over us. Men crawling from death ditches,
plunging back into birth canals.
Who will comfort the tree
after the flood has raped it?
The black candle moves to the window.
Angel, Mother, Bitch they call
under the canopy of comfort—
and there is no comfort.
Sea birds far ashore murmur
to the acacia trees of home. My brother
and sister's backs curl like whip grass
on their mats.
One day I will open my fist
and my bones will fly past the temple
of a thousand sighs, past the red canopy
and those whose screams turn to glass.
Over this wall I will take the boiling moon
in my arms.
Scald me, I will say, and these my sisters,
cauterize our eyes and lips,
seal our past-sacred female hollows.
We welcome your harm!
Cast us out on the night tide,
past hands and hungers,
past agonies and comforts.
Tow us away
past the reef of forgetting.