From Issue 12: Cloisonné China (Poetry)

"Cloisonné China" originally appeared in Issue 12 of Tahoma Literary Review.

Cloisonné China

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

cloisonné bowls.


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 Lan

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.