for K.K. Seet
by Chin Woon Ping

Black as a widow’s weeds, a collapsed concertina
eerily jaunty, trailing a flourish of faux feathers
lavish as a Mummers’ parade–
something a dowager might have sported
at the races, taffeta roses adorning rim
still holding their color while a topaz pin flashes
notes of coyness and flirtation–

What imperious noggin nestled in
your fusty fussiness, what convoluted plots
hatched to charm waistcoated men
gathered in smoking rooms sucking
post-prandial cigars as the count
of bagged game climbed ?

Lonesome chapeau, vacuous and abandoned
frippery hung mid-air in thwarted flight,
velvet accessory to preenings hollow as
trophies in a taxidermist’s case
now suitable for the curiosity of moths.


Why I Chose A Hat for My Poem

Chin Woon Ping

When I first spotted the hat, I was immediately struck by its unusual shape and dramatic flourishes. Being a theater practitioner and teacher, I am fascinated by the character transformations afforded by costume. This hat evoked all sorts of social and political nuances viewed in European plays, films and characters –I thought of Lady Algernon of The Importance of Being Earnest, for instance, of British royalty (the late Queen Mother and her elegant bonnets)–as well as the aspirations of New England nouveau riches. The initial attraction to the object, however, later turned into a certain revulsion for its quaintness and affectation, even its spookiness.

About Chin Woon Ping (Woon-Ping Chin): She is the author of two books of poetry, In My Mother’s Dream and The Naturalization of Camellia Song. Her memoir, Hakka Soul, was jointly published by the National University of Singapore and the University of Hawaii Presses. Her writing has been anthologized in such collections as the Norton anthology of Language for a New Century, the Harper Collins anthologies of Literature and Asian American Literature, & Writing, The City and You, Playful Phoenix, A Sense of Exile, Monologues by Women of Color, Westerly Looks to Asia and On a Bed of Rice.

Chin has translated Indonesian poetry, Malaysian aboriginal myths and the poetry of Li Bai. She studied performance art and playwriting with Rachel Rosenthal, Maria Irene Fornes, Georges Bigot and Howard Stein. She has performed her solo pieces in Japan, Canada, Australia, Singapore and the U.S. Among her published plays are Details Cannot Body Wants, Stroke, Diary of a Madwoman and From San Jose to San Jose. She was Fulbright Professor in Indonesia and China and received fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Mellon Foundation, the National University of Singapore and the Pew Foundation. She lives in Vermont and teaches at Dartmouth College.