Poetry / October 2018 (Issue 41: Writing Singapore)

Aubade Ending With A Burned Hand

by Celia Hauw

"To differentiate themselves from other groups of construction workers working at the same site, the women from Samsui came up with the idea of using red cloth to make head scarves, easily standing out under the hot sun. This idea was quickly accepted by the foreman. Three days later, samsui women all wore the red head scarves." —Foshan Daily, 1999.

I watch you through eyes pried open.
Harsh lines across your cheek under the sun,

sharp silhouette, half your face hidden
in its own shadow. Heat so thick it feels like sitting in steam.

You hold my foot in your hands, examining where
it had been sliced open by a stray nail

on the construction site, soaking the cloth underneath in red.
I sit still. I face away, praying to the Gods

for a quick end to this pain. I let you hold me.
This is a process, a ritual: your skin, against my skin,

holding my foot steady with the stillness
that immediately follows a whistle—

my eyes wide open, ears primed for the sticky release
of your hand from my foot. I follow you

as you stretch away then pull
back to strike it, where with your strength

you beat the blood out, and when it drains,
with a long line of skin you wrap it.


Unwrapping the bundle of rice, you beat out
the last bit of grain into the ceramic pot,

letting fall the sound of torrential rain.
You measure, with your pinky, where the water

rises, the stillness of early morning resting
dimly against your skin. A seething whistle—

Dawn breaks. What follows is a process, a ritual:
We stand before the Gods, praying for a day without rain,

rolling joss sticks between our fingers,
damp in the heat, leaving across our palms

a blush of pink. I let you dress me,
sitting still and facing away.

The red cloth first draped over my head,
then your hands, making a clean slice to crease

and fold the fabric over my braid. Your fingers
enter my field of vision then, barely

shielding my eyes from the glint off the aluminum kettle
from which steam continues to rise, where

on its surface I might find a blurred silhouette of myself,
reaching out to touch that mild imprint of the sun.
ImageCelia Hauw is Singaporean currently living in Chicago. She is interested in how people think about language, and studies in Neuroscience and Creative Writing at Northwestern University. She is a recipient of the Academy of American Poets College Prize, and her poetry has been published in Words Dance, We Are A Website, and elsewhere.
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