Girl Powdering Her Neck by Cathy Song

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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...

What is  theme of "Girl Powdering Her Neck" by Cathy Song?

The light is the inside
sheen of an oyster shell,
sponged with talc and vapor,
moisture from a bath.

A pair of slippers
are placed outside
the rice-paper doors.
She kneels at a low table
in the room,
her legs folded beneath her
as she sits on a buckwheat pillow.

Her hair is black
with hints of red,
the color of seaweed
spread over rocks.

Morning begins the ritual
wheel of the body,
the application of translucent skins.
She practices pleasure:
the pressure of three fingertips
applying powder.
Fingerprints of pollen
some other hand will trace.

The peach-dyed kimono
patterned with maple leaves
drifting across the silk,
falls from right to left
in a diagonal, revealing
the nape of her neck
and the curve of a shoulder
like the slope of a hill
set deep in snow in a country
of 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 sleeve
like a brush into water
to wipe the mirror;
she is about to paint herself.
The eyes narrow
in a moment of self-scrutiny.
The mouth parts
as if desiring to disturb
the placid plum face;
break the symmetry of silence.
But the berry-stained lips,
stenciled into the mask of beauty,
do not speak.

Two chrysanthemums
touch in the middle of the lake
and drift apart.

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2009

write35,413 answers

starTop subjects are History, Literature, and Social Sciences

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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