Debbie Lim

Debbie Lim was born in Sydney where she works as a medical writer. Her poetry has been published in Blue Dog, Quadrant and Poetry Without Borders. She is winner of the 2008 Inverawe Nature Poetry Prize. She was a guest poet at this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival.



How To Grow Feet of Golden Lotus

A mother cannot love her daughter and
her daughter’s feet at the same time
                                                      – Old Chinese saying
Begin with a girl of five:
her arches will be firm
but she will not yet know real pain.
Soak feet in warm water and herbs.
Massage. This will be their last
pleasure, though recalled
with bitterness.
Curl four toes
under the sole like a row
of sparrows sheltering under a ledge.
Bind with a long strip of cotton
or silk – whichever you can afford.
But leave the big toe free:
this will be her keel,
for balance.

Pull tightly
as on the reigns of a disobedient horse.
Time will break them.
Strive to make toe kiss heel.
Every second day
turn your ears to stone.
Unwrap the bandage and ignore
her crying as you rebind them,
each time tighter. Remind yourself,
as your own mother did,
that there is no such thing
as a truly liberated foot.
Beware three terrible blooms:
ulcer, gangrene and necrosis.
They are insidious as a woman’s curse.
A toenail can take root in the sole
and left unwatched, the cleft
between ball and heel
nurses all kinds of enemies.

Two years will train them
into pale lotus bulbs
of the most sensual beauty:
iron, silver or gold*
When she is older
the mere sight of them
peeping from beneath a gown
will arouse in men
the most powerful kind of desire:
lust combined with pity.
She will walk
the walk of a beautiful woman.
The smell she might live with
for the rest of her life.
But she will learn the art of beautiful
concealment: washed stockings,
draped hems and hours
stitching shoes
of the most delicate embroidery.

A woman with lotus feet
steps through mirrored days
of privilege. She sits
under willow trees, works
tiny worlds with her thread.
A woman with golden lotus feet
will always be waited on.
There are just two things
she must never forget:
                  Always wash the feet in private.
                  Always wear slippers in bed.

* The binding process lasted for approximately 2 years. The lotus or bound foot was classified as gold, silver or iron according to its final size. A golden lotus referred to a foot no more than 7.5 cm long and was considered ideal. A silver lotus measured up to 10 cm, and an iron lotus was anything larger.



The worms are shrunk in their tunnels
hiding apologies. The cicadas
are banging out a death trill.
While I sit with this ache in my jaw,
my souvenired pain in a bottle.
Up in the gutters, nests are falling
apart into shitty straw and the lawn
is a sea of green tips ripe
for amputation. I am sick of waiting
with this mouthful of gauze.
From inside, I watch you mow:
dragging your diesel heart
in crooked rows. You see only
the metre in front of you, trail
a blunted yellow wake. That vein
working in your left ankle
will be the death of you.
Summer sours everything too quickly,
especially washed skin. My mother sits
in the air-conditioned lounge
obliterating herself with symphonies.
Her mouth has turned into a violin
string, she can stay still for hours
on the verge of breaking.
The sun is an old medal
swung through days like this:
cicadas, heat, deafening afternoons.
This dull socket will keep me
awake tonight. If not,
I’ll pray for dreams of snow.


Girl at 6.20am

An ordinary street, suburban
in flat daylight.

But imagine 6.20 am
when the sky
is pale and slowly leavening
there is something secret happening:
cars parked silently
in driveways and dulled with frost,
and how the cold builds
a second skin
around bushes and letter boxes
so there appears to be
two of everything: one visible,
the other crouched inside, sleeping.
I could reach out
and touch a gatepost, turn
and walk up somebody’s driveway
if I wanted to.
Halfway down the road
there is a tree
I think is cherry blossom.
It leans over the path,
ignores the fence
of the garden it grows in.
Soon it will be loaded with white petals,
cause a sidewalk snowfall
before turning
into a brown skiddy mess.
But just now, as I’m approaching,
its branches are clean
and so dark they could be
stapled to the sky.