How poetry helped Han Shimei endure a loveless marriage and a lifetime of hardship in rural China
This story was originally published in podcast form by Story FM.
My heart cradles an orange light
Not quite fit for the warm spring sunshine
Only a wisp of plum fragrance lingers in the chilling wind
I knead it all, this hurt in my heart
into ten thousand rays of light
Aiming at the sun, the moon, and the stars
Rolling with the waves of the South China Sea
The pain dilutes into the lights of thousands of homes
Only the passing clouds linger
The sky is full of you.
—Han Shimei, “Orange in the Heart”
This is a poem written by Han Shimei, a 52-year-old woman born and raised in Nanyang, Henan province. Confined to her small, impoverished mountain village, Han speaks a local dialect and her world is narrow. Her days are spent caring for her husband, parents-in-law, and children, as well as tending to greasy stoves, rough farmland, and the family’s dilapidated house. Working by day and sighing her nights away, Han led a thankless, harsh life that is all too often the standard in China’s rural communities.