Once upon a time, in the land where I was born,
a king sat stunned when a little white mousedeer
outwitted his fierce hunting dogs.
A nation was birthed under his tree shelter:
Malacca, where crabs have saintly crosses on their backs,
where fairies bathe by moonlight at the top of seven waterfalls,
an island holds the shape of a pregnant maiden,
and vampires stalk abusive men.
My name is Lian, I am the first-born daughter
of Princess Hang Li Po’s five hundredth handmaiden.
My mother arrived with Uncle Cheng Ho
and the first Chinese fleet to set foot here.
As a baby, my mother massaged my feet with oil
and now like all Malaccan women, I prefer to go barefoot.
My soles are broad and sturdy, not bound
like my mother’s lotus claws.
I cut my own hair, prefer shorts and t-shirts
to kebayas and a neat sanggul.
Even if I wasn’t superstitious, I was interested in
“Ghosts”, whispered my classmates, whispered
because the ghosts might hear them.
“Ghosts”, they whispered, “are everywhere.”
“Where?”, I asked, curious.
I didn’t believe in ghosts, but still, I wanted to see one.
When I turned 13, I experienced blood stains for the first time,
And a loneliness crept into my body like a muscle spasm.
My resilience broke, whenever I saw girl classmates holding hands,
Giggling, stealing kisses with boy classmates; gossiping about who likes who.
My self-preservation kicks in when I excuse myself to the library and
wrap literature around my small frame like a safety blanket
Dreaming of wide open waves and continents where Uncle Cheng Ho had visited.
One night of pain, of heavy bleeding,
I lay on the grass under the shelter of the tree
and looked up into the night sky to an unusual vermillion moon,
closed my eyes and wished that I would find love one day.
My eyes were still shut when I smelt frangipanis,
felt cold fingers on my skin. A young woman with eyes as dark as night peered over me.
She said, “Your loneliness I understand, your pain in living outside Society”
beneath that moon—red as danger or longing—
until I heard a door creak, a flash of fluorescence,
Mother against the frame, furious.
“What are you doing by the banana tree so late at night-lah? It’s bad luck!
Didn’t you hear about the Pontianak who has been roaming the past few weeks?
The uncle next door has a mysterious rash on his stomach. To bed, now!”
The uncle, always angry, always yelling. His wife always crying.
I turned around to look for my friend,
but she’d disappeared.
In her place, a single golden white frangipani
And the sky aflame with a golden white moon illuminating a future for me.
This piece was first performed in an ensemble with four Malaysian poets: Melizarani T Selva, Elaine Foster, Sheena Baharudin and Ilya Sumanto, at the debut of Pontianak for the Melaka Art and Performance Festival 2014.