— joanna radwanska-williams
On the silk farm, I pick up from the dust
A shard of Chinese ceramic:
A courtesan’s face in blue underglaze.
It had been part of some plate or cup,
In the same pattern that once served an emperor,
Now mass produced for the gong zuo ren.
It may have served rice porridge, or green tea,
Or beef and noodle stew– niu rou fangzi tang.
Then one day, it fell from the farmer’s hands,
Spilling broth and noodles, cracking on the concrete floor.
Now it is helping me to tell my story:
How we stopped on the roadside to look at the silkworms,
Among rice and cotton fields, somewhere in Rudong County,
Between the Long River and the Yellow Sea,
How the peasants stared at us in welcome,
Five generations on a farm,
How the greatgrandmother led us to the silk shed,
Where hundreds of worms spin magic cocoons,
Wriggle, and munch on mulberry leaves.
Perhaps the greatgrandmother, sixty years ago,
Had the face of the blue-glazed courtesan?
On the street, I see many faces, some
Are as beautiful as the finest porcelain.
They ride on bicycles.
They smile and speak to me in English.
They wear the best silk in the world,
But they don’t want to be silk farmers.
They want to fly to New York or Paris,
Where all beautiful women go.
They have microwave ovens and magnetic phone cards.
To call New York costs twenty kuai. Tai gui le.
I will take the blue courtesan home with me.
I will wash the dirt off her face,
I will lovingly wrap her in wire-wrap,
Gold-plated jeweler’s wire, around her,
Like a cage. Now she is a pendant
On a golden chain, a precious memory
Worn around the neck. She will see New York,
Paris, Chicago, London, Tel Aviv.
She will live to tell her story
To five generations.
She will leave behind
The land of silk and fine porcelain,
Endless rice fields and millions of bicycles,
Skyscrapers made of ceramic white tiles,
Nanjing, Shanghai, Dragon Air,
Writing that looks like little bamboo shoots,
Food stands at every street corner,
The golden cage of history,
Nanjing, Oct. 15, 1996