a poem by Lily Shen
Girls who play Guqin have beautiful hands.
—across the strings
of woven silk.
The sound echoes in your bones.
The resonance of steel
—a river coursing through earth.
so very soft, tender.
—smoke lingering in air.
White silk on the gown
of an Empress.
Melodies transcending dynasties—
The sky and the soil are held in
everything we make;
the earth breathes in the pentatonic scale.
This, I take pride in.
are roots that will
feel like my own.
is the color of
Cerulean veins on milk white urns—
the kind of stillness that you hold your breath
in the presence of.
my mother’s Qipao.
Fine blue and white
chafes against my body:
a pebble weathered by
Cold as my skin is warm.
My name means knowing peace.
It carries the weight of an ocean:
Bliss; serenity at the bottom of a
Its consonants are gentle,
like a loving whisper.
Yet the way it disconnects
from my own
pricks of foreign air.
‘300 Poems of the Tang Dynasty’.
Summer evenings with my mother
at the small kitchen table
as she teaches me to recite each verse.
I sought escape
then. Peeled at the shriveled paint
underneath the chair.
I can no longer read those delicate lines.
The language is still my own
but its characters,
through the cracks of my memory.
In the glass box I keep,
a collection of recollections,
I take them out and run my fingers
over the pages.
These are the things I used to know.
Feeling escapes past disconnection.
is the name of my Grandmother’s hometown.
The spices of that place
The bamboo flute
My father’s dialect
bones in a way that nothing ever could.
My hands fall through
as they fall through shui muo paintings:
transient ink and mist.
The knowledge that my heritage exists
ingrained in me
Never to touch, only to keep—wisps that
surround me, protect me.
A river through earth, smoke lingering in air.
The way it should be.
The sound of the Guqin is homesickness.
A nostalgia for a hometown
so very past.
And every so
often, for a time you have never lived.