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On Transformation: Self Portraits by Yuxi Lin

The witch was not thorough / with her magic

Self Portrait as Galatea

ekphrasis of Pygmalion and Galatea by Jean-Léon Gérôme  

I shivered to life
the cold draping my body. 

At my first breath he was there,
that fish-like mouth —

I could not move the hand
bruising my ribs.

My ivory girl, he whispered
& led me from the plinth.

I don’t know why
I didn’t say anything.

My eyes were riveted
to the hammer at his feet.

Only after — the bleeding.
Pain was familiar to me.

I lifted my feet & touched
shards of glass nested there

like confetti at my birth
& learned my color on the inside. 

Other women
turned to trees & streams — 

Why then must I be made
into skin?

What form have I stepped into —
I did not agree to this body.

He broke me
to the mercy of touch

& granted a voice
without speech.

For years I moaned like a dog
that didn’t know it had teeth.  

Self Portrait as the Little Mermaid 

It will feel as if you were treading upon sharp knives, & that the blood must flow. 

The witch was not thorough 
with her magic —

She made me white 
only on the outside.

I thought I wanted that world,
but walking among them 

was the most painful thing — 
hearing them talk about my kind

who are no longer mine.
It hurts to dance at a party 

when I see my father’s face
in the servants clearing the dishes.

Traitor, their eyes said. 
But they kept my secret. 

My ancestors sank in a golden venture 
& built a kingdom under the sea.

Yet here I am with a human prince
who thinks he saved me.

My little pet, he laughs
& takes my hand in his.

Why did I sell my voice  
to sleep at the foot of the bed?

Each morning he walks me 
around the deck

& points out the places he owns
of my old home.

Each night I perform the mute toy
pirouetting under his fingertips.

He has a thing for legs,
but what of the fish in my bone? 

Ghost fin, phantom tail,
the loam under my scales.

His parents could smell it. 
You are not like us, they say 

sweetly, politely. That’s why 
he has to marry someone else.

When he tells me, I try to change him 
the only way I know how —

I press him down to the bed
of the ocean & hold him there —

where he joins me in the deep 
silence, & the only sound 

is his teeth sucking in sand —


Self Portrait as Rotkaeppchen   

Let’s be clear — I saved myself.
No hunter came to help.

The wolf threw my dress in the fire
& writhed me against his belly

full of my ancestors’ meat. 
He made me pee in the bed.

Why did no one tell me 
the wolf was a man?

It would be a long time 
before I could bear to be touched —

the stench of a hairy body as it lay 
next to me & told me to do things.

Although I ran that day,  
the day never left. 

I dreamed I was wolf
& that was why he picked me.

He sniffed it — my own wolfness 
that I could not outrun —

Who was it that awakened
his wolfness & made him

chase a cure in other bodies?
Poor wolf. Poor me.