Tim Tim Cheng

Icarus, a girl, talks to interviewers

after The New York Times‘ feature on the second Chinese female astronaut

You asked if I was afraid of the sun 
melting my eye makeup. 
I had waxed enough to know beauty burned 
and some places were better left 
untouched—questions, like ingrown hairs, 
trapped under the skin in the wrong direction. 
My father named me after my brother 
but never made me wings, not wanting 
to admit to his own misjudgment: 
I did listen, and I flew better—oh the solitude 
I had, not being father’s favourite son, 
too loud, had Chang’e not been writing back. 

The sun was too bright for my taste. 
I packed my makeup (but not sanitary products) 
and waited for the moon to wax, 
its murmur tickling my nape. Of Chang’e’s 
many stories, I knew she drank 
her husband’s elixir to fly to the moon 
just to escape the celebration sex 
after he shot down those nine damned suns. 
You thought she was running away 
from domesticity. Did you ask her husband 
to water their osmanthus tree, 
or if eyeliners helped him aim better? 

No. So why did you act shocked 
as I ascended? Accuse Chang’e and I 
for deviance. We no longer need 
the safety of your approval. Now: 
my skirt, opening upwards; 
my breasts, anti-gravitational; 
the stars; the glitter on my eyes, 
free from your orbitary gaze. On a lucky day, 
when the moon is red from the beads 
floating around me, some of which 
spatter in your face, you’ll know 
I’ve shed your ill-fitting space suit.


The Tattooist (from CUTS: A Tattoo Lyric)

I let my friends’ children ink my back,
a noisy, wild mess, somewhere between a
playground and a bar’s toilet. 

A boy slashed a drooping penis here, you
see, slightly below my shoulder blade. 

He used to doodle erections everywhere:
his family’s house, his school’s wall, his
own assignments, my sketchbook even
though we’d just met. 

So I told him, vandalize me 
with an actual tattoo gun

His eyes were wide, hands shaky 
as he stabbed the machine 
into my back, forging confidence. 

It was his first flaccid penis, 
and the last public penis he drew.


Tim Tim Cheng is a poet and a teacher from Hong Kong, currently reading the MSc in Creative Writing at the University of Edinburgh, sponsored by William Hunter Sharpe Memorial Scholarship. Her poems are published or forthcoming in Berfrois, diode, The Margins, Cicada Magazine, Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre Weekly Poem, Cordite Poetry Review, and Ricepaper, among others. She is working on chapbooks which explore Hong Kong’s landscapes, as well as desire and rituals through the lens of tattooing. She translates and writes lyrics at leisure. timtimcheng.com.