Three Poems by Nicole Lee

His House
(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
mulch
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.

cicadamag