It endured for a thousand years.
Toes broken, arch bent,
tied with strips soaked in blood,
the young girls forced to walk on crippled limbs
to force the bindings ever tighter.
The death toll was unmarked, but high;
infection being most common in the young,
falls in the old.
The goal was a foot of three inches long.
Most women have ankles longer than that.

China had an Ash Girl,
one who saved a golden carp
and kept it, like a pet, in a secret pool.
Her jealous sisters killed and ate it;
she planted the bones,
which grew into a tree,
which granted wishes—does this sound familiar?
and gained her the love of a prince.

The dramatic necessity of the tiny shoe
is obvious; the unmistakeable signal
that the prince has found the correct partner.
The mother chopping off a heel or a toe
(“a mother cannot love a daughter and her daughter’s feet”)
is a symbol of how ruthless one can be
when in pursuit of power.

And yet, one wonders how much travelled along the Silk Road,
if a Frenchman, perhaps, heard the tales of the tiny feet,
the grace of the Lotus Walk,
the delicately embroidered shoes,
and it sparked a tale of fortune’s turn about,
the dispossessed coming back into her own.
He wouldn’t have heard the details;
three-year-olds handed over to foot-binders
to break them for beauty.

We have a knack for finding those things beautiful
which are harmful in the end.
Arsenic complexions
belladonna eyes
compressed and corseted waists—
perhaps the only surprising thing is that it ended.
It endured for a thousand years.

August 28, 2009


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