Grace Yee was born in Hong Kong and grew up in New Zealand and Australia. Her poetry, short fiction and essays have appeared in various journals, including Meanjin, Southerly, Westerly, Island, Heat, Going Down Swinging and Hecate. She lives in Melbourne, where she teaches creative writing at universities.
the mission: by miss w, fourth generation chinese new zealander
each day it began with the morning poo
baba’s coffee steaming kitchen tiles
greased with the splatter of wok-fried food
baby sister dribbling marmite in her highchair
while burning toast smoked the kitchen sepia
baba would hand out the cadbury’s
after we’d tied our tattered shoes
and slid into the backseat of the rusty fusty toyota
by the time we got to school our eyes were wide as walnuts
stay out of the sun our wan-faced mother would warn
but I knew I had to be brown
it was the colour of everyone-and-everything-in-the-world-that-wasn’t-white
as pretty as miss hong kong
in summer my mother stomped around the house
in bare feet. she didn’t pad, she stomped.
she stomped because she hated the heat, the house
and raising children in the heat in the house.
she stomped because god had given her a gambling man
and a job frying fish six days a week.
at night when all was done for the day, my mother would sit
on our second-hand hemp sofa, tuck her feet sideways
like a mermaid and watch television.
she liked selwyn toogood’s money or the bag
because she wanted to win the sewing machine, and she loved
the annual miss universe pageant because she wanted to win
that too. she would ask my ogling dad if he thought she
was as pretty as miss hong kong.
I would be sprawled on the floor with a book
not far below her feet. my mother’s feet were the colour of cooked chicken
(though bonier) and the heels were cracked dry and black.
she never had the urge to moisturise
or to do that thing where you slough off the dead skin:
I yearned to pull at the crusty bits myself,
sure that if I could yank the skin off
I would find my real mother underneath.
but we were forbidden to touch any part of her body.
(my little brother stroked a toe one day, and for his trouble
received a kick and a blood nose).
when my mother dressed up to go out
she would spend hours setting her hair and powdering her face
and she’d put her feet in pretty sandals. that her crusty black heels
were on show didn’t seem to bother her in the slightest.
I think they were her parting shot,
a way of saying as she left a place: ‘yes, I do look nice, don’t I?
but look how hard I have to work for it’