The Propaganda Poster Girl
She has emerged from the bamboo forest
with a white, fleshy-petalled flower
and her gun.
Save the country,
save the youth
she is supposed to say
because she is young and solid looking.
She looks out at her admirers
and critics, distracting them with her stare,
the clever pattern in her headscarf,
that poorly foreshortened thumb
and dark pink fist.
She is flat and smooth.
Foreigners smile at her,
wanting to look good.
Duong Ngoc Canh painted me
in 1945. Then someone else
carved my image in wood
and multiplied me.
I was all over the city,
flapping against plane trees
and rolling down the street
with other rubbish.
Not quite immortal or free from aging
I was still luckier than most
for I had hundreds and hundreds
The way you shed eyelashes and skin,
I let my replicas go painlessly.
Somewhere in the city, a printing press
was constantly replacing
what I’d lost.
He admires her elegance,
that crisp feline stare,
her constantly changing surveillance
over the tiny gallery’s entrance.
It’s not his first visit here.
But still, he admires the elegance
of his situation, the quiet insistence
of her gun (the same black as her hair).
Her constantly changing surveillance,
warm then cold; if only he could rinse
himself in her stare.
He admires her elegance.
To him, the print’s
worth more than American dollars just for
that constantly changing surveillance.
They leave the shop together, an odd pair—
she tucked under his arm with a look of despair.
He, admiring the elegance
of her constantly changing surveillance.
People like to be looked at,
especially by beautiful eyes.
But only up to a point.
are no longer open
to critique, which is why
you should stare secretly. Why
believe me? I have experience at
observing. My eyes are always open.
At times I hate my wide painted eyes,
though I’m becoming wiser. They,
I now realise, give my life a point.
That gun slung over my shoulder, the point
of the barrel behind my headscarf. Why,
that’s no weapon. My hands are frozen. They
could never pull a trigger. Now, look at
the magnolia between my fingers, my eyes
can’t see it. They only stare out, wide open—
immutably, frustratingly open. An artist carved them with the point
of his tiny print knife, thinking, ‘Eyes
as beautiful as a cat’s. Why
not?’ Carefully prepared, I ended up at
the gallery, alone with my sight. They,
the art dealer and her daughter, sold me. They
made twenty US dollars from a man with an open-
mouthed smile. He seemed to stare at
everything. Cycling us through Hanoi, he pointed
out the lake, as if he knew I could see. Why
he understands me I can’t say. But his eyes
are so glad—pale-lashed, green eyes—
that I forget to question his awareness. They
flatter me, sympathise, know why
it’s hard to be always open
to malice, accepting it wide-eyed; that’s my point.
I am obliged to look out at
my viewers, constantly, eyes open
like a clear conscience. The man realises this point;
he needs to look at me, and to be looked at.
LISTEN to ‘The Propaganda Poster Girl’ by Amy Brown
Amy Brown recently left Wellington to do a Ph.D in creative writing at the University of Melbourne. Her thesis involves writing a modern epic poem—whatever that might be.
Brown comments: ‘ “The Propaganda Poster Girl” is quite a literal title for a poem about the figure in a Vietnamese propaganda poster, which hung on the wall above my computer while I wrote the book. After a year of writing mainly from my own point of view and about myself, looking up and seeing this surrogate subject was a relief. I think the poem became so long because I was enjoying writing it.’