Monsoon History by Shirley Geok-lin Lim

Selected poems with an introduction by Prof. Laurel Means

(Skoob 1994, 173pp., pbk 6.99) ISBN 1-871438-44-6


from Women’s Dreams...


I cannot praise you too little:

You are nothing much.

When I look around to gauge

With a computing eye

Each one, the computer-heart

Registers prices: dollars-

And-cents, plus minus-status

Taxation. In air-conditioned,

Music’d, lit, white supermarket,

Chattering with the coiffures,

I am an elegant starling

Coxcombing the alleys.




Separated by glass, they beckon

Strangers from the sidewalk. Angular, thin;

Who love them are women. Reflection

Of Narcissus clothed in perfection,

A power invites us in their trance

Of shape; rosy, life-sized, and kin

To the alien whose strut and prance

Parade even in the sexual dance.

Image of surface, they are not filled

By others; mindless, breath cannot kill.

In that shared conception, we

Also study their perfect circuity.




from A Life of Imagination...


An Immigrant Looks at Whitman


Something wonderful and different

Might turn to memorialize

The wide water of his death.

Second death. There are earthquakes

Daily. Bombs go off and little-

known shop-girls are blown away,

Chin off, legs off at the knee.

The major prophets gazing upwards

Saw celestial maze, dark redoubts,

Not the saw-whet owl or long

Purples deep in marshes.

But, for you, bring golden pheasant,

Goldenrod, my Asia, my America.

I fish in the Great Lakes inwards,

Forsaking gods for leeches and wild pansy.


The Painter


He always liked mirrors,

Painted them blue, yellow, green,

With glitter, panache, with sheen,

Like liquid turning to ice,

A cold slick of something

Substantial and reflecting.

He put corners on them,

And frames. Squares and rectangles,

His mirrors were windows.

Standing to one side, on an angle

Of vision, he glimpsed numerous

Folds of the world, unseen

Himself. He painted nothing

But mirrors and filled his house

With reflecting canvas.

He could not step through them.



extracts from Monsoon History...




I am afraid to study

Any more the past,

Breathing slowly along

The nervous edge of crying.

All things bring me back

To this small place

Of pity and terror

Which so encircles me

I cannot run. Seeing

There is no place,

It is best perhaps,

Entirely, to disappear.




When I was a child, I would watch the spray

Break phosphorescence at my feet then run away.

There was so much sea, always rhythmically

And gently pulling to the horizon.

There was the enormous starry clarity

Of sky and, sharply, carried upon

The breeze, the smells of pines and salty sea.

It was a child’s preoccupation

To stare at the yellow coin of moon,

To crumble pine needles between thumb and finger,

Not thinking anything particular, to linger,

Watching the trees bend in the wind, sea dance,

Till you knew it was time to be home soon,

And straightaway left with no backward glance.

Ó Shirley Geok-lin Lim, 1994.


SHIRLEY GEOK-LIN LIM, Professor of English & Women’s Studies at the University of California in Santa Barbara, was born in Malacca, and her work reflects both her Chinese-Malaysian heritage and landscape of the United States. She received a Ph.D. in English and American Literature form Brandeis University and her first book of poems Crossing the Peninsula (Heinemann, Writing in Asia series) won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize in 1980. One of her short stories won second prize in the 1982 Asiaweek Short Story Competition and appears in her collection of stories, Another Country (Times, Singapore, 1982). She has published another two volumes of poetry, and has edited/co-edited The Forbidden Stitch (recipient of the 1990 American Book Award), Approaches to Teaching Kingston’s ‘The Woman Warrior’, Reading the Literatures of Asian America, and One World of Literature. Her most recent book is Nationalism and Literature: English Language Writing from the Philippines and Singapore (1993). Writing South East/Asia inEnglish: Against the Grain, a focus on S.E. Asian English-language literary criticism has been published by Skoob in tandem with Monsoon History.