These Feet Were Never Bound


The crack of toe bones breaking
for the sake of beauty,
the crack of toe bones breaking
to create feet like lotuses,
like feet were never meant to be
this never happened to me.

paupau's feet

Our grandmother’s feet were never bound
they never broke her bones
never told her that her feet were lotuses.
No, her feet were tough, they were tanned
they were vegetableselling, childcarrying, islandfeet.
They carried water from well to field
on her husband’s farm.

Her feet were never broken, they were never bound
but she was bound to a time when a woman did not choose
whom to love,
bound to a society where women are worth less,
and she did not break these rules.

Our mother’s feet were never broken, never bound.
Her feet were vegetableselling, basketballplaying, island feet,
sandybeach feet, sneaking out to go dancingatnight feet.
Her feet were bound
to carry her away,
away from a place where a woman
does not break the rules.
They carried her onto a plane, across an ocean and across mountains,
and she broke the rules
when she married a gwai lo* in a cold land.
It became a balancing feat,
a standing strong feat,
between what she’d left behind and what she’d chosen here feat.
Her feet became learning to iceskate with the help of her daughters feet
and they knew no bounds.

My feet were never broken, they were never bound.
These size 9-and-a -half-feet,
I wanted to cut the toes off these feet
that make me stand up,
stand out, stand
taller than everyone else
when I was a kid.

My feet were never bound,
but I am bound,
sister, to say to you:
It’s hard not to feel broken, not to feel bound
when we’re slotted neatly in our spots
in a rainbow crayola crayon cardboard box,
in this paint-by-numbers, connect-the-dots kind of world.

Don’t you ever let them
bind you into boxes that are too small
that stop you from seeing the ways you are beautiful,
because you don’t fit.
These boxes break you, they break us.
They take away our power.

Sister, remember this: our feet were never broken,
they were never bound
so never let them break your spirit, never let them bind you
with a double bind that makes you think you have
to be something or nothing.

Sister, some binds are made to be broken.

So, here’s what we’re going to do:
We’re going to take that pile of teen beauty magazines
stacked in your room, the ones that tell you
you’re not shaped the right way,
we’re going to rip those pages to shreds,
and build giant paper mâché,
dinosaurs out of them.

Sister, we’re going to break those binds
that make you think you have to choose sides
because life is not a game of red rover
and if they call you over, say:
“I’m going to stay here, in the middle of this field,”
until you break every one of the rules.

Sister, our feet were never broken, they were never bound.
They are skinny heel inherited from our father feet,
they are happiest when toes are free feet,
they are strong stand out, stand up, stand tall feet
they are choose-your-own adventure feet
and they will never let us fall.

*gwai-lo is Cantonese slang for foreigner, literally, “white demon” or “white devil” 


2 thoughts on “These Feet Were Never Bound

  1. hannahrenglich

    This is powerful, Kathryn, as they all are. Thank you for your words, your powerful, eloquent words – and all the fierce love behind them.

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