Sunday, March 8, 2015

Poem of the Day: "China: Ancient Technology Exhibition” by Mary Soon Lee

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “China: Ancient Technology Exhibition” by Mary Soon Lee.  Ms. Lee was born and raised in London but has lived in Pittsburgh for the past twenty years. Her poetry credits include Atlanta Review, Ideomancer, and Star*Line. Her poem "Interregnum" won the 2014 Rhysling Award for Best Long Poem.

China: Ancient Technology Exhibition
Mary Soon Lee

The young interpreter
Says she recognizes me,
As we stand watching
A man make paper
From strained bamboo pulp;
His face tells a story
I cannot read.
     
I have never met
Either of them before,
But something pulls me
As the man pulls
Each sheet of paper
From the pressed pile
And hangs it to dry.
     
My father grew up in Malaysia,
Spoke Chinese as a boy,
A link in a chain
That stretched back
Through his father's father,
Who came from China.
But the chain has broken.
     
I speak only English,
Grew up in London,
Carry my heritage
In vestiges
Like my odd middle name,
Whose meaning
I am unsure of.
     
The interpreter smiles
At me as if she knows me,
Says she recognizes
My voice, the British accent,
Or what's left of it
After thirteen years 
Here in America.
     
She's a long way
From home, and I wish
I knew what she thinks
Of Cleveland,
Of the people who stop
To watch for a minute
Before walking away.
     
I wish I knew more
Of what my father thought, 
But instead
I buy a piece of paper
From the man, 
Dipping my head in thanks
As he rolls it up gently.
     
Two dollars to buy
A piece of history,
Reenacted for my convenience.
I wonder how long it will be 
Before I remember
To take the paper
Out of my car.

Poet’s Notes:  I wrote this poem in 2003 after visiting an exhibition about China in the Great Lakes Science Center. The details about my father are accurate. He died in 1986, and I miss him still. I now know that the meaning of my middle name is “peaceful/harmony.”

Editor’s Note:  I love the mood that the poet has created here, as well as fluidity with which she manipulates time.  “China: Ancient Technology Exhibition” first appeared in American Scholar, Spring 2004, Volume 73, Number 2.

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