Mentors Poetry Recording Work

Tell These Hands – inspired by Ding Ling (1904-1986)

DING LING (1904 – 1986)

Nellie writes, “Ding Ling was a prolific author of revolutionary China. Her early short stories focusing on young Chinese women greatly influenced the world of socialist and feminist literature. One of her notable works, “When I Was in Xia Village,” inspired several of my own poems. How fortunate to meet my literary heroine during the First American Women Writers Tour to China in 1983.”

Tell These Hands

In a modest apartment, in Beijing, summer of 1983

I meet Ding Ling, a writer who I missed meeting

in San Francisco. My eyes curious, my ears grasping for nuances

amid batiks of mythological birds, their feathers

of blue veins, her husband serving tea.

         Eyeing her every move, I hear her saying

                           at the previous evening’s banquet for American women writers

  I am not a feminist.  You of the west, she scolded in her soft but clear

voice, affixed that identification upon my work of the conditions of women,

         daughters               wet nurses                       fishers        

                  herbalists                        slaves

                           mothers                prostitutes             cooks          farmers  

      actors         warriors              doctors                 maids                    embroiderers

The Mandarin was lost to me, more American than Chinese, though footed

in the earth of Hoisan in Guangdong where Ma Ma was born, in Oakland

         Chinatown where Baba emigrated to work, escaping

                           poverty in his home village of Goon Du Hahng.

Throat parched, I swallowed her words, wanting to shout:

         Your stories don’t lie!   Your fiction speaks truth.

Your stories I carry, lighting paths and mountains for this American-born Chinese,

the world’s women.

 stories of patriarchal chicanery, subterfuge.  I call it terror.

         Your stories live, thrive.  Tell my Ma Ma, my Poo Poo.

Tell these hands.

Nellie Wong

© 2021 Nellie Wong

Nellie reads Tell These Hands, recorded on May 3, 2022 for The Last Hoisan Poets & Del Sol Quartet’s USAAF 2022 program, Sei Kui: Community is in The Heart.

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