Joyce Carol Oates

In the mud-colored Hai River a swirl of infant-girl bodies.
In the river-trance the infant girls are propelled with the current.
You stare, you blink—she has vanished.
But—here is another, and
soon, another.
How small, how fleeting, of no more consequence than a kitten
an infant girl drowned at birth
before the first breath has been drawn, and expelled—
No crying. We do not shatter the peace of the morning with crying.
See how good we are!

In the mud-river so many, you could not count how many.
Out of the bloody womb the small bodies betray the infant girls,
for they are revealed incomplete between the legs, pitiable
the not-male, the doomed.

We have not been drowned in the Hai River, for we
are of the privileged Su Qijian family. And yet
our dreams are filled with drowning amid the swirl
of infant-girl bodies in the Hai River
sweeping past our home.
We do not want to know how the infant girls are our sisters or our aunts.
We do not want to know how they are us, for (it is said) they are not us, that is all we have been told.
And we did not see these infant-girl bodies in the swirl of the mud-river, for we had not yet been born.

We are the largest family in Beijing. We are very proud to be of the
Su Qijian family of Beijing. We have been chosen for the honor
of meeting you today because we are a perfect family (it is said), for
we have been born and our baby girls not drowned. Bloodline is all, and in our bloodline, it is a marvel, it is a source of great pride, how our mother, our grandmothers, our great-grandmothers had not been thrown into the mud-river to drown but were allowed to live.

So we know, we are blessed! We are very special amid
so many millions drowned in the Hai River as in the great Yangtze
and how many millions perished in the Revolution of no more consequence than infant girls extinguished before they can draw breath or cry.

Especially, we do not cry.
We have never cried.
You will not hear us cry—See how good we are! Even
in the agony of death, our tiny lungs filled with the mud-river.

* * *

The poem continues: read the complete poem at the Kenyon Review.

* * *

Image: Ghostly Child by Ming Xia

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