Yesterday I received a telephone call from a Geriatrician asking my permission to use a poem that was published in Five Bells. She’s editing a book of poetry on ageing. I was nonplussed when she confirmed that it was Sacrifice that she wanted; flattered but felt compelled to explain that the poem is not about ageing. She brushed aside my protests and insisted I allow her to include the poem in the anthology.
We writers write and people read what they will into our writing, so I am philosophical, but I wanted to explain what my poem is about. At the time I was too tired. I suffer from fatigue; it is worst when I try to converse when it hits. It’s now morning and I’ve had a good night’s sleep. This is what Sacrifice means –
I called my poem Sacrifice because, like Abraham and Agamemnon, my forebears believed that sacrificing a child would appease the gods and avert a greater misfortune. Gods
…not of philosophers or scholars. God not of poets – Carolyn Forché
In the village where my father was born, where everyone shares the same surname, female newborn babies were routinely drowned in the river or smothered in ash. My grandmother often reminded her granddaughters of this: you’re lucky to be alive!. My poem speaks of that – it’s about Gendercide. A common practice in my grandmother’s time but took on a momentum when China’s one child policy came to force.
Grandma didn’t kill her girls–they were given away, just as I was giving away when I was born – for being a girl but in addition to what seemed an equally valid reason: the time, day, month and year of my birth bode ill for my family, according to the fortune teller. I am indeed lucky to be alive.