Dear Little Sister by Katherine Liu

I. You were born in a free land,
red tubes strapped to your back
so you could draw breath.
It’s a girl, the card read, as our parents scooped you
into their arms, limbs cradling
your tender skin, blushing peach head.

II. Raising a baby girl
is like watering the neighbor’s garden.

III. Nobody wants a baby girl —
smothered and tied away into plastic bags. Ask
for a son; sons are more valuable, will extend
the family name. Across the ocean
a nurse gives a couple their daughter
after cutting a red smile under her chin, head
swinging madly on the hinge.
Newborns have a sweet smell —
this was sour.

IV. You wrap my finger in your tiny palm,
dragging your other hand through my hair.
I’m going to be like you,
you say, your eyes two full moons.
I press my face into your skin,
inhale for that lazy sweetness,
some compound, hormone, rooted in maternal love,
but the newborn smell has faded.

V. Young women commit suicide
because their daughters crawl out
from graves
in their dreams,
brine tangled in seaweed hair, their transparent bodies
rocking on spindly bones.
Mommy, mommy,
why didn’t you love me, they mewl.

VI. Girls tossed into rivers, barrels, slop-buckets —
jelly skin and blue-veined like amphibians,
but without flapping gills;
only bubbling mouths, waterlogged tracheae.
This is the fact:
In China you would be dead.