"Cloisonné China" originally appeared in Issue 12 of Tahoma Literary Review.
By Pingmei Lan
The pinch of light tucked
between crumbling walls of snow in Manchu,
before a blast of sunlight came to whiteout
their frozen shadows. And sleeves of smoke
rising from winter chimneys stained by
an upturned bout of sky. The crow’s wings
shimmer across a lake of windows. Undulating,
a tyranny of echoes. A slow croon
oozing from the turntable, a needle
etching out pages of The Long March,
of dozens of grandfather’s records aching
from the stings of tobacco, the consumption
that swallowed him up as he tap-tapped against
the stricken matchbook full of red guards
in crisp Mao suits. The family of veins
that danced as if slogans were music.
And mother’s breath rose as a ghost
as she came home from work,
beads of ice hanging from her hair,
her fingers see-through against the stove’s
kerosene glow. There will be bread, there
will be everything, she quoted the Chairman.
Only for a laugh as thin as the sheet of oil
floating over dinner served in chipped
I held the moon at its center
as sky sank below the murk to our windows,
dark marrows staining those panes, leaving
behind a scattering of small white scars cast
around the rim. Her china broke as I dove
inside, my bones turned into water
under her tap-tapping thumbs.
Reprinted with the poet's permission.
Pingmei had these comments about Cloisonné China:
The shadow of snow is blue, my son told me once. It took me back to a childhood moment of walking in deep snow. Inside my own footprint was a blue light that seemed both trapped and fighting to escape. But where? When the sun rose it would at once unleash this blueness and dissipate it. This duality sent me searching until I gave birth to this poem. How porcelain could be at once delicate and immutable. How the shadow of political turmoil stretched over generations to render lives both restless for change and immutable in present form.
Pingmei Lan was born in China and lives in San Diego with her family and writing friends.