The Youngest Daughter

By Cathy Song b. 1955 Cathy Song
The sky has been dark
for many years.
My skin has become as damp
and pale as rice paper
and feels the way
mother’s used to before the drying sun   
parched it out there in the fields.

      Lately, when I touch my eyelids,
my hands react as if
I had just touched something
hot enough to burn.
My skin, aspirin colored,   
tingles with migraine. Mother
has been massaging the left side of my face   
especially in the evenings   
when the pain flares up.

This morning
her breathing was graveled,
her voice gruff with affection   
when I wheeled her into the bath.   
She was in a good humor,
making jokes about her great breasts,   
floating in the milky water
like two walruses,
flaccid and whiskered around the nipples.   
I scrubbed them with a sour taste   
in my mouth, thinking:
six children and an old man
have sucked from these brown nipples.

I was almost tender
when I came to the blue bruises
that freckle her body,
places where she has been injecting insulin   
for thirty years. I soaped her slowly,
she sighed deeply, her eyes closed.
It seems it has always
been like this: the two of us
in this sunless room,
the splashing of the bathwater.

In the afternoons
when she has rested,
she prepares our ritual of tea and rice,   
garnished with a shred of gingered fish,
a slice of pickled turnip,
a token for my white body.   
We eat in the familiar silence.
She knows I am not to be trusted,   
even now planning my escape.   
As I toast to her health
with the tea she has poured,
a thousand cranes curtain the window,
fly up in a sudden breeze.

Cathy Song, “The Youngest Daughter” from Picture Bride. Copyright © 1983 by Cathy Song. Reprinted with the permission of Yale University Press.

Source: Picture Bride (Yale University Press, 1983)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Cathy Song b. 1955

Subjects Family & Ancestors, Health & Illness, Eating & Drinking, The Body, Youth, Living, Relationships, Activities, Nature

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Cathy  Song


Poet Cathy Song was born and raised in Hawaii and is of Korean and Chinese descent. Her work  draws on her rich Korean-Chinese ancestry as well as her experiences as an American and a woman. In poems that have been compared by critics to the muted tints of watercolor paintings, Song has consistently created a world rich with narrative and imagery that transcends her own ethnic and regional background. Song herself resists . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Family & Ancestors, Health & Illness, Eating & Drinking, The Body, Youth, Living, Relationships, Activities, Nature

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.