Wang Gungwu, Head, East Asia Institute, National University of Singapore


She was born of a stolen night,

Of a transient breathlessness,

To be the sight of shame,

Given the blight of blame,

Among legal virtues

That regally spurned her lack of name.


Ere she was four her mother died.

(Her father, they say, lived with another.)

All cried but she,

Who stood by the door

Looking at the eye-leaks so futile

Not knowing to cry for the wet cheeks.


After the monks had gone

And the paper gold been burnt,

It was too late to mourn.

Cold, the deceit of the sun;

Lone, her slow death was begun:

She soon learnt her fate.


She learnt to serve her aunt,

A barren bag of nerves,

Who flogged her maliciously

For her mother's fertility,

Who fed her ambitiously

For the promise of her marketivity.


Thus ten years she grew in shame, this little flower,

Aimed at a harlot's fame,

Blooming on her auntie's capital.

Her assets were doubled --

Gold teeth and bangles,

High-heels for sandals:

All ready for virgin's vandals!


The momentous day.

The dotted lines were done.

The devil had damned the play!

She was cheaply Factored, though with care;

And, well-tutored to please

She coyly dimmed the glare of the lamp

When conversation ceased.

And after all was over

She counted the damp notes on the table.


The seed of stolen night grew in social scorn,

Of those hold that scorn can kill.

It grew, instead, to share

A moneyed bliss with flesh unknown,

To give a demanded kiss

In loving air, when more seeds are sown.


She was born of a breathless moment;

Society did the rest.



Reproduced with the kind permission of Wang Gungwu.

Postcolonial Web Singapore OV Singapore Literature Overview

Last Modified: 25 July, 2002