Memories of my late mother-in-law.
|Zhu Mu Lang Ma
Wai Po often sang the songs of her lost generation.
While tears trickled over wrinkles,
she harmonised injustice and betrayal
and warned me not to trust those who gain power
by dangling the carrot of freedom.
How could I forget those tired eyes and crow's feet?
But I'll not trim my memories with cherry blossoms;
she was no Lei Feng.
Her shrill voice shattered eardrums,
and her infamous tantrums
sent Wai Gong scuttling behind his newspaper.
As her candle's final flame flickered
she reminisced into the twilight,
transporting me to an alien world
where televisions and computers only appeared
in sci-fi films at the picture house.
Running a withered hand through grey locks,
she recalled forgotten arts and traditions,
fortunes lost and gained,
empires trampled and risen,
and loved ones lost through ignorance or war -
a lifetime of experiences I cannot share
illuminated by fading candlelight.
When the final wisp of smoke rose,
past became present.
She saw the concubine who birthed her,
standing hand-in-hand with her other mother -
the one with broken feet who died in prison -
her childhood family reunited.
Wai Po donned that white qipao the Red Guards burned
and stepped onto the stage in silk slippers,
selecting her favourite song for the final encore.
"Zhu Mu Lang Ma," she warbled,
lyrics expressing love for her motherland
with memories of a golden age that never was
and promises of dreams
that never die.
Zhu Mu Lang Ma.
Wai Po = maternal grandmother
Wai Gong = maternal grandfather
Lei Feng = a hero of the Cultural Revolution, a perfect man, like a saint
qipao = traditional formal ladies’ dress
Zhou Mu Lang Ma = Holy Mother, the name of a popular folk song, the Chinese name for Mount Everest.