“Shrinking the Uterus,” by Cathy Song

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“Shrinking the Uterus,” a poem by Cathy Song, appeared in the Fall 1991 issue of MQR.


After the birth of my son, my mother moves in.
She enlists the help of her sisters, my aunts
who appear in full force
with chicken broth drenched in whiskey
to tide me over, a preliminary
dish to the masterpiece
they spend days in my kitchen
preparing — ju gerk, pig’s feet soup,
which I can hear rattling on the stove top
as if the pig’s feet were tap dancing
to a simmering frenzy.

The stew is sickeningly sweet,
vinegar and brown sugar
boiled down to a thick caramel tar.
I am ordered to eat it —
or else in my old age
I’ll have “plenny pilikia” — woman’s trouble.
Pig’s feet helps shrink the uterus,
which after birth is a flabby bag of muscle.
Pig’s feet helps get rid of the old blood.
So I am told.

I am told a lot of things.
My mother scares me with a string of wives’ tales
and my aunts concur.
I must keep off my feet.
I must keep them warm.
I must keep away from windows.
I mustn’t under any circumstances
wash my hair for a month.
Ancient Chinese birthcontrol,
my father says with a wink.
My mother gives him the-what-does-he-know look.
And already, tsk tsk, I am spoiling the baby.

The wind is howling
when commandeered by my mother
I shuffle in my house slippers toward the kitchen,
my hair matted with the sweat of labor,
my mind rice gruel from lack of sleep.
Who would find me
desirable in this hour of my life?
She leads me to the table,
offers me at last the triumphant gelatinous hooves —
silent pearly knobs of cartilage
bobbing like dentures in a porcelain bowl.


Image: Louise Bourgeois with Tracey Emin. “I Wanted to Love You More.” Digital print. 2009-2010. Museum of Modern Art, New York.

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