Face-washer

 Geylang Methodist Chinese Church, Singapore, 1985

 

This cloth, a dirty pink, threadbare:

ropes of terry-white stripe its breadth

like the cane-marks across my calves.

 

Along the top, in slow, uneven threads,

my name appeared. A tilted C, yawning

to meet H. Next, the O: a wobbly

 

hard-boiled egg. My mother wasn’t made

for sewing. The TV flickered in the dark.

A slide of N, followed by the curl of G,

 

a relief of space, then solid  E  I  L  E  E

and finally the N. Chain stitch, they called it.

She hadn’t done it in years. A face-washer

 

for the bathroom of my kindergarten.

My friends showed me theirs: perfect script

in quiet lavenders and blues. I pretended

 

I’d forgotten mine and wiped my hands

on my skirt. Before I left, my teacher found

my washer in the bottom of my bag. She took it

 

to a gap on the rail. I saw my name: bright red,

in my mother’s shaky embroidery, hanging

from a hook, pretending to be like the others.

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