Margaret Bradstock – PEARL RIVER, GUANGZHOU

Rusting hulks & smaller river craft
stitch their way upstream
past Shamian Island
& the European quarter,
where British traders once
brought tea & Bengal opium.

Across Renmin bridge, the older section,
ramshackle terraces
jostle on the waterfront.
Barbers cut hair, pudding-basin style,
old men sit like rows of wares
beside the canal,
& turtles clambering
in shallow tin trays
swim off memory’s shores.
(In death, they say,
the heart becomes a turtle.)

The sky darkens like jade,
dragonflies settle
in the comfort of shadow.
Evening has the stillness
of a Chinese vase,
the perfection of detail;
we’re inscribed on a scene
we can’t enter.

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