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Envoi, 1st Prize, June 2008

 

The Coat

 

    Chinese legend tells of a woman taking a winter coat to her husband, press-ganged to work on the Great Wall.

 

Three months since cherry blossom drifted

like snowflakes

onto my red silk wedding-dress

and whips and horses took him at dawn

three months carrying his seed.

 

He has no coat for winter

so, its bundle on my back

I confront village stares

women spitting their contempt

children throwing pebbles

as at a stray dog.

 

Before me, the Emperorís stone dragon

winding its tail through trees

up craggy mountain faces.

I climb steep, uneven steps

between walls topped with huge teeth

up to a watch-tower in swirling mist

the dragon breathing

over the edge of the world.

 

Below, brick lines snake past outcrops

workers swarm

hauling boulders

heaving buckets of clay

tamping the mud

clouds of breath above their heads.

 

Weather-beaten faces gather

I show my bundle

there are murmurs of mudslides

men falling from dragon claws

into the ravine

they shrug

my child is heavy as granite.

 

I undo the bundle

wrap myself in his coat

sink against walled roughness

through fissures, wind whistles

notes from his bamboo flute

snowflakes drift onto the coat

like cherry blossom.

 

 

Margaret Eddershaw

 

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