Saturday, October 13, 2007

Chinese painting: Young lady with butterflies

See how the butterflies quiver round the shoulders:
it's a delicate little piece, isn't it?
Yes, I mean the painting, not the girl, you scoundrel!
See the way they sweep and swoop, hover and peep,
see how she skips in fright, look, she's terrified!
And the dress, the way it swirls, look at those folds, that silk!
It will add to your home should you decide to buy.
Yes, terrified! She flings her small hands in the air
but as she hops away she keeps her poise
and - yes! - the butterflies seem to flirt with her!
And she seems to frolic with the flirting wings
- a man of your discernment would appreciate such grace -
and as they dance around the shoulders, as they soar and drift,
see how she sheds her formality -
(as I'm sure you know that was no small thing
for a Chinese girl in the court in those days)
- in dismay
yet keeps her gracefulness despite her fear.

She skips so daintily because the feet are bandaged,
the toes bent back, it would hurt too much to flee.
They say that inside the bandages the feet went bad
but a man of your learning would know that already.
Wonderful how art can transform such material
into something you would pay to put on your wall.

Published, 1997, in Snakeskin, August issue

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