Sunday Poem


Inside your body there are flowers.
One flower has a thousand petals
That will do for a place to sit.
—Kabir, “A place to sit”

Rolls of rice paper in the corner,
jars of soft-haired brushes,
elegant cakes of watercolour,
black inkstone at the centre.

My mother held the brush vertically,
never slant, arm and fingers poised,
distilling bird or breeze into
diligent rows of single characters.

Hours rippled. Years of practice urged
the true strokes forth—stiff bamboo
now waving in white air, cautious lines
ribboning silk folds of a woman's gown.

My favourite of her paintings
was of chrysanthemums. They began
as five arcs of ink, long breaths in the emptiness
alluding to stem and blossom. Then,

from the finest brush, the outline of each petal.
Flesh flowed from the fuller one, tipped
with yellow or lavender, until every crown
bloomed amid the throng of leaves.

If only I had been paper,
a delicate, upturned face stroked
with such precise tenderness.

by Fiona Tinwei Lam
Enter the Chrysanthemum
Harbour Publishing, 2009