Poems and Other Myths:

A collection of spoken word poetry by women from Asia.


Elaine Foster


I turn men into stone.
No, they don't become hard 
But become strangely impotent around me,
Stunned into submission, threatened, 
Their egos become a façade, a kind of statuesque masculinity. 
I don't hate them, they just shouldn't look at me, directly. 
Why would a man look at me, anyway? 
I don't pay them any attention. 
I have other preoccupations.
I mean, I had.

I used to have a roving eye. 
I was famous for it
I was proud of it. 
Girls  - Beautiful innocent and aged by experience 
Women, perfect, wise, wonderful, I celebrated their difference.
My eyes were so notorious, boyfriends, husbands, 
All men were afraid when they saw me,
And would hide their women folk away 
Avoiding my all seeing, all knowing, all penetrating, eyes.
Eyes, as they say, are the windows into the soul 
And my eyes could tear you open,
Rip you apart, for me to see, everything 
And I've seen plenty of naked women. 
I see them, perhaps, better than they can see themselves. 
Like a magnifying glass, reflecting all heavens and hells
Burning, doubley glazed, two sided, one to enter, one to reflect, 
but never to exit. 
Mirrors reflecting mirrors, reflecting mirrors, reflecting mirrors,  
A cathedral of light, lost, and forever. 
Until one day the light bent so far, 
And this has not happened ever,
The light reflected back into me. 
The Critical Angle - total internal reflection.
She looked straight back in my direction

Her name was Athena and she was divine, a powerful goddess, a shining star
Her eyes burned bright like giant moons in the dark.
And her body, her body was young and soft but I could sense her spirit was aged
Aged hands worn from touching a thousand past lives that gave her the wisdom of an old sage.
And when I held them, I'd trace her strong but fragile fingers from their tips to her wrists,
Reading, as I went, the poetry that was etched 
Like braille, into her palms. 
She would twist the sinews of my soft tissue which
Like therapy, released the pain,
Massaging the weakest muscle in my body which was not my brain
But my heart, hardened by a kind of emotional immobility.
My tongue was grateful for the exercise to finally express freely.

I said - "I love you."
 "Don't be daft. You just met me."
 "But I feel like I've known you all my life, since, forever!"
 "Such a romantic. There's no such thing as love at first sight, darling." 
 "But I know you. We're soul mates."

Tempting fate I asked her:  "What's your star sign?"
"Gemini" she said. The Twins.
The stars suddenly aligned.
And there she stood at the centre of my universe
Her gravity pulling me 
Back together,
We were meant to be.

But it was a secret. 
It was forbidden and we couldn't keep it.
This knowledge and the town was its formidable keeper. 
She was forced to date the most eligible bachelor. 
And so I got jealous. I wanted to possess her, but you can't possess people 
Snakes wrapped envy around my heart and reared an ugly head. 
I became a monster.  
I locked myself away for protection and hid in my cave and ignored her. 
I stopped listening to her heart though it beat for me and me only. 
My heart was petrified in agony. 
No one would  ever look at me again. 

Until one night, the town came for her, dragged her out into the open,
forced themselves upon her against her will, 
accused her of being a slut, of being unnatural. 
It was non consensual. 
I followed the mob. 
Frozen I watched and bared witness to this atrocity 
Against all womankind and for that, they took my head. 
But I was no trophy. 
As the heavy axe rushed at me, I screamed her name.
"ATHENA!!" but she could not save herself let alone me
So I prayed for society: "Forgive them for they know not what they do" 
We are all just victims of our own history.
They had murdered the truth, killed beauty, and for their sins
I died but lived eternally in men's hearts, never to be forgiven or forgotten.
A perpetual symbol of fear and fury.

I am Medusa. 
Protector of women.
I turn men into stone and so they fear me. 
Women secretly want to be with me. 
The sacred feminine, goddess, divine, truth, violence, life and death, 
The gorgon and beauty queen all in one. 
Remove my mask to expose the ugly truth; the violence of man. 
Use my head as a totem, 
Hang it from the highest pole, a warning to all men who've ever thought about wanting to desecrate the temple again,
To ward off evil. 
Bare my face on your armor and shield, 
Use me as a talisman, 
A lucky charm, a badge, to wear, to put on, to gain courage, and strength and power. 
Remember this tragedy 
And use it to change history, 
Write your own story. 
My love, I worship you and even in death, we will never be apart. 
I will watch over you.
The am that I am is you.


For my grandmother 

She rubs minyak on her ankles and calves. 
The noxious concoction of menthol and mosquito coil is enough to make me gag. 
I can't breathe, I want to leave
I want to rub her varicose veins away and she says - "Po Po kaki sakit. Po Po cannot cangkol. Po Po cannot stand." 
I nod but I cannot understand. 
Po Po, I want to hold your hand. 
She reaches for me and leads me to the makeshift bedroom beneath the stairs. 
The smell of dried banana leaves wafts through the air. 
The smell of coconut, 
the smell of mango, 
the smell of papaya, 
the leaves of our childhoods, 
the trees of our lives continue to grow even as we decay. 
Outside the mongrel dogs play. 
Chasing passing cars on the road below
Or maybe they are chasing back the neighbours dogs,
Back to the Indian man who has been neighbours with my family since we moved to Sabah.
Back then we were all North Borneans.
Now they say we are a nation, a federation.
It's the grass cutter.
The Indonesian boy who married the girl maid next door
Who used to live in the little hut near the longkan
Who's kretek cigarettes once beckoned me to try them,
He is decapitating the borderless lawn
Long reeds fly everywhere
Along with them, the smell of honey and rain and sun
It's the wet season so the grass is very long.
And when the dust finally settles 
Huge red mud termite mountains rise so high
That not even the strength of a cangkol cannot dent them.
I know, I've tried on more than one occasion.
I'd leave the stalemate heat of the house 
Put on a pair of slippers 
And stroll carelessly down the hill
To where that mountain stood
And gave that mud mountain a thing or two,
But to no avail.
Once I even saw my two young nephews go at it with a lead pipe
they'd found in the garden
But to no avail.
The two whacked mercilessly and I laughed
Because I know termites always come back.
At about this time my grandfather would arrive back
In his junk car with two cans of stout for Po Po and pack of cigarettes
But not today, you see my grandfather has passed away.
Po Po would be at the fishpond with the dragon flies
Or in the kitchen
Bent over a silver drum,
plucking chicken feathers while the roosters pecked on
But always with one eye open
We ate chicken curry very often
Long plumes of smoke rise into the air
Like the ashes of her hair,
Drop fragilely.
I run back up the hill
The house now in half shadows.
Po Po has bathed.
She is dressed in a fresh new white vest,
A cigarette from her lips
A clean towel over her shoulder drips
And a bright red sarong.
She goes to the cupboard and takes out the little jar
And proceeds to rub her ankles and her calves 
and she says - 
"Po Po kaki sakit, Po Po cannot masak masak, Po Po cannot cangkol, Po Po cannot stand anymore."

*Sakit - sick
*Kaki - leg
*Masak Masak - to cook
*Cangkol - to dig
*Minyak - mentholated balm
*Kretek - Indonesian clove cigarettes
*Longkang - drain