Wangfujing - Summer Palace

Yang Lian

a breeze splits the spring spate      though it's the greenest for a millennium
coquetry set with every jewel of the concubine who threw herself in the well
on the lake's drifting face      a jade cup filled with poison wine
the emperor separated by a screen of empty words softer than gossamer
the beauty of dying in jail too elegant      too noble      too decadent
with a gesture the princeling loses to the slave
kneecaps in the rutted knee-worn mud ooze tenderness
the sound of the wind nips out the palace wicks one by one

exit the Gate of Eastern Glory      the final syllables of Mei Lanfang's sweet voice
swing him into      the last dynasty's crab-apple blossom and cypress groves
follow parallel lines of red-tiled walls that rhyme with toppling
it's the century releasing the shutter      the soul in the photo
blinks      sucks up the dark that soaks into every f-stop
history's tourist map misses its step      seductive as the innermost heart
inverts the untrue crowd that is controverted by a single crow
exit the Gate of Divine Might      pedlars hawk the gloaming

a tuning fork hidden in the camera's body startles
the lakeshore's curve      the drowsiness of lotus blossom      Realising spring Pavilion
exchanged for a gunboat      (who wrote it?)      gladsome wind chimes'
range further out      weeping willow strings stroke the cold of the waves
the Empress Dowager's attentions      dared to resist the sceptre      if that's possible
and have attended to him in the womb too      punishing the faux-ivory sky
concealed bird claws on dusky water invite
his catkin to welcome another time      hurriedly snatched away

translated from the Chinese by Brian Holton


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