What is theme of "Girl Powdering Her Neck" by Cathy Song? The light is the insidesheen of an oyster shell,sponged with talc and vapor,moisture from a bath.A pair of slippersare placed outsidethe rice-paper doors.She kneels at a low tablein the room,her legs folded beneath heras she sits on a buckwheat pillow.Her hair is blackwith hints of red,the color of seaweedspread over rocks.Morning begins the ritualwheel of the body,the application of translucent skins.She practices pleasure:the pressure of three fingertipsapplying powder.Fingerprints of pollensome other hand will trace. The peach-dyed kimonopatterned with maple leavesdrifting across the silk,falls from right to leftin a diagonal, revealingthe nape of her neckand the curve of a shoulderlike the slope of a hillset deep in snow in a countryof huge white solemn birds.Her face appears in the mirror,a reflection in a winter pond,rising to meet itself.She dips a corner of her sleevelike a brush into waterto wipe the mirror;she is about to paint herself.The eyes narrowin a moment of self-scrutiny.The mouth partsas if desiring to disturbthe placid plum face;break the symmetry of silence.But the berry-stained lips,stenciled into the mask of beauty,do not speak.Two chrysanthemumstouch in the middle of the lakeand drift apart.
To me, this is a poem about what women have traditionally been compelled to do for men -- how they have been pushed to make themselves into what men want and how this forces them to submerge their true selves.
In this poem, the author is trying to see into the mind of the woman in Utamaro's print from 1700s Japan. She notes how the woman is making herself into something of beauty (notice how meticulously Song describes the room and how she then segues directly into describing the woman as if the woman were part of the beauty of the room) for someone else's pleasure ("some other hand will trace"). She then tries to uncover the woman's thoughts, but it seems as if the woman has none. The woman seems to want to be something other than her beauty, but ultimately she does not speak or think anything.
This shows that the woman has truly submerged herself. She does not allow herself (is not allowed by her society?) to be anything but a beauty, made for the pleasure of others.
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