The Floral Apron

The Floral Apron
The woman wore a floral apron around her neck,
that woman from my mother's village
with a sharp cleaver in her hand.
She said, "What shall we cook tonight?
Perhaps these six tiny squid
lined up so perfectly on the block?"

She wiped her hand on the apron,
pierced the blade into the first.
There was no resistance,
no blood, only cartilage
soft as a child's nose. A last
iota of ink made us wince.

Suddenly, the aroma of ginger and scallion fogged our senses,
and we absolved her for that moment's barbarism.
Then, she, an elder of the tribe,
without formal headdress, without elegance,
deigned to teach the younger
about the Asian plight.

And although we have travelled far
we would never forget that primal lesson
- on patience, courage, forbearance,
on how to love squid despite squid,
how to honour the village, the tribe,
that floral apron.
Marilyn Chin

from The Phoenix Gone, The Terrace Empty (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 1994)

Reproduced by kind permission of the publishers.
Marilyn Chin

Marilyn Chin, originally Mei Ling Chin, was born in Hong Kong in 1955, where her father ran a restaurant. Chin’s family soon emigrated to Portland, Oregon. She studied Chinese Literature at the University of Massachusetts, and later received her MFA from the University of Iowa.

Chin’s honours include awards from the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard, United States Artist Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. She has received a Stegner Fellowship, the PEN/Josephine Miles Award, four Pushcart Prizes, the Paterson Prize, and a Fulbright Fellowship to Taiwan.

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About The Floral Apron

This poem, representing Hong Kong, is part of The Written World – our collaboration with BBC radio to broadcast a poem from every single nation competing in London 2012.