Poems and Other Myths:

A collection of spoken word poetry by women from Asia.


Jennifer Anne Champion


For Georgina Champion

In ballet class, they teach you to stand your ground.
There are five standard positions.

This is the first.
Your palms are candy dishes for melted chocolate.
Your feet out-turned like a penguin as you're told 			
to try 
to walk 				like a swan 
			with other little girls 
who are luckier than you to at least 
			look like ducklings. 
It's all a little awkward. 
			But you are five 
and you don't know how adorable you are.
You do know in the kindergarten across the block 
you never learn to read or write or put up a fight 
when they tell you to go play in the back. 
Not because you're tall. No. 
To build your own wall out of wooden blocks.
The only phrase you know: 
			wo bu zhi dao

In the second position, 
				your arms open
hoping someone will take you up on your endless capacity to love 
				as all little children do.
Today, it is your birthday. 
				People are nice 
when you have candies to bring to class.
Su Chen says she wants strawberry.
Su Chen also threw out the present you bought for her party.
The same snake-and-ladders you have at home 
which up until then has satisfied you. 
	it wasn't polly pocket.

The third position 
is for catching pinkie promises in the crook of your elbows
	to counterbalance 
		what you think you deserve.
			Now you learn love is 
bending. Grasping the right grammar 
to hammer 
frame. Never tell people your real name is Champion. 
Avoid the accusation that you must be 'merican or damn hao lian.

Being ignored is easier than facing ignorance.
For that, you like boys with their natural indifference
but this is a convent school and you're expected to behave 
like a lady.

I always thought BFF meant boy-friend-friendly.
because the other girls would crucify you 
if you crossed the line. 

Never cross the line.

Stick to Home when you play classroom catching in the dark.
Or better yet, play in your own home with your new polly pocket.
That christmas, you wrote your requests carefully:

Brand new, without missing tokens
so at least you can make-believe 
there's a tiny world where you exist.

In primary four, I decided this. 
That if I had known the word 
back then, 
I would have said: 	
		"To FUCK! with these... meanies."

I raised my arm in fourth position.
Released the grasp of the sneer,
and stuck my foot out like a door stopper.

			and jumped 

and sprained my neck.
Too used to looking down for so long, I never went back 
for ballet again.

One rotates through these positions and learns
to accommodate as adults do.

But sometimes I think back to that room of mirrors
where the little girls gallop in my mind, 
illuminated only by the glow of an exit sign, 
past reflections of themselves, 
of our selves, of my selves,
of the children before us and what we bring back 
for the children in and amongst us today.

We walk away but we never walk free.
Each exercise - a rehash of history.
Till we build enough muscle to stand 

in fifth.

Because we are not born with strength.
We acquire it.

*This poem is also available in poetry film, live version and audio formats.
*First performed in She Walks Like A Free Country (Lit-Up! Festival, 2013).
*First printed in A History of Clocks (Redwheelbarrow Books, 2015).
*First filmed for Hedgebrook (US) and Etiquette (SG) in 2015.)


The truth is I am a unicorn. 
But no one believes me. 

People ask, If you're a unicorn, where's your horn? 
And I'm too embarrassed to tell them how 
every other month I trim mine down and sell it to a sinseh 
& even the sinseh looks doubtful, 
but I tell him not to judge a unicorn by its horn 
or lack thereof. 

It's just keratin. 
There are worse things to sell away. 
Like your dignity. 

The dignity of a unicorn lies in its tail. 
The iridescent paleness made richer by stories. 

I feed on myth.

I nibble on hearsay folktale 
spun from the mouths of my grandparents.

But lately when this unicorn picks up the morning paper,
it makes her sad.

This unicorn licks the sugar cubes meant for her tea.
Finds it all fake and aspartame. This makes her sad.

This unicorn goes to work and teaches children to sing about happy places. 
But the children get more cynical each year. 
They tell her, 'cher why you so happy?
This also makes her sad.

Unicorns were made to gallop in fields and ruminate by rivers.
Now this unicorn just tweets like everyone else. 
Shortens experiences and life expectancies to one minute rants 
and carries on.

People ask, If you're a unicorn, 
how do you type?

And I'm too sad to remind them that for every question
wrapped in disbelief, another piece of magic falls off.

Soon I will take off my shoes and find I have feet for hooves.
This too will make me sad. 

The stories will be replaced with fact.
The facts will be replaced with figures.
My figure replaced by a number.

One, is a very lonely number indeed. 

(Why do rhinos get to be a protected species?)

I am not bitter. 
I am a unicorn. 

But no one believes in unicorns anymore.

First printed in SingPoWriMo (Math Paper Press, 2014) under the prompt, write an untrue poem about yourself.