(a golden shovel poem)
In the house that he built as the 60s were turning I find myself standing where I was once a smart alec kid going places who sort of looked down on her parents who wanted the life reached by climbing a stair that began somewhere else I left home and made good met people thought & did things a good girl didn’t found a man and even married him who if I’m being honest wasn’t every father’s dream and there as the 90s were burning he gave me away Daddy if I wasn't the kid you wanted if there were a chance to see you again stood on your wooden stair today like you used to in your shorts I would say oh daddy how I wish for nothing more how I wish that you were still that young man proud in the house that would one day stop us letting you go and even now won’t slip away
a grey cold day rain in thin washes emails pile up leaves float down in a rehab facility on a light industrial estate an old woman watches tv her hands shaking see xian’s falling leaves keto diet shi huangdi outside birds cars tropic sun on sill still she’s cold i try to call but no one answers go on to trays for mince pies ice the christmas tree wax the where the what pulse dot pulse dot pulse one forty over ninety the pressure cuff swells leaves float down green to bitter chocolate so we keep on living till the life runs out
What Everyone Should Know about the Workshops and Stores of the Ministry of Public Works
That therein are employed 124,173 persons precisely and one of them is my cousin Xiangfei The Worthless When he got the job his mother my mother’s No 2 Sister cried And that a year later he still has the job and goes into the warehouse every day in his blue government uniform Is the occasion for much scarcely concealed incredulity among his relatives Second Aunt goes to the temple every day to pray and to give thanks for this gift of the ineffable gods She brings chicken steeped in rice wine steamed lotus leaf dumplings oranges Item: the original sketches of Engineer Qiao for his pound lock mechanism raising the elevation of the Grand Canal to carry it over the Eastern Mountains on its 4000 li journey from the Northern Capital to Hangzhou That there are fifteen levels in the hierarchy of the workshops and stores of the Ministry of Public Works and three branches: Army, Engineers, Highly-Skilled Craftsmen The youngest at level fifteen are the messenger boys They run through the streets of Kaifeng Open City in their red caps with their leather satchels They bear the silken knot of the emperor They cry that the camel train has come from Dun Huang Beacon City bearing amber blown glass and red coral from Isfahan and Tabriz And also my friend Ibn Malek who is a carpet merchant like his father and grandfather before him but likes to bring me tales also of his stern and lonely desert god Item: a 1000:1 model of the Dazzling Brightness Palace in Changan City of Everlasting Peace plaster and sandalwood painted in slate grey white and red, set on a revolving plinth. Overhead is suspended a golden phoenix enamelled with eyes of onyx. If you peer in through the open double doors of the Hall of Munificence you can see the Emperor inspecting a model of the palace in which you can see the Emperor inspecting a model of the palace in which you can &c The beacons are lit on the Taklamakan wall and drums resound through the city The barbarians have returned on their blood-sweating horses they fly over the trembling grass their eyes glow like braziers Armies are marching north the ground shakes the sky murmurs In the temples they pray for the Emperor: May he retain the Mandate of Heaven! Item: a jade figurine of Kuan Yin the goddess of mercy emerging from swirling clouds workshop of Master Cho. One of a pair. The other is missing. We have a booth by the shores of Dragon Pavilion Lake and they bring us hotpot from the famous Szechuan eating-shop in Little Sweetwater Alley. Ibn Malek tells me of the great astronomer Al-Khazin and his measurements of the obliquity of the ecliptic for the Vizier of Ray, using his chopsticks to illustrate. Three moves to checkmate. The steam rises from our cups of wine making us giddy. Music echoes from across the lake. The moon is rising. Item: an annotated map of the Middle Kingdom. On the edges of the world we see Nippon Aleppo Lake Balkash. Beyond that the rushing sound of endless crystal waters that sluice off the tail of the Universal Dragon as he shifts in his sleep and the steam hisses from his nostrils descending as rain.
Nicole Lee was born in Kuala Lumpur and educated at Malvern and Oxford. She has worked as a banker in Hong Kong and London and now works in environmental biodiversity and writes poetry. She has been published in various online journals, including Sine Theta, Crank, the Cabinet of Heed, Babel Tower and Bindweed, and has been long-listed in the National Poetry competition. Her work explores the experience of the Chinese diaspora, time, memory, and displacement.