Chinese Bookshop
by Barbara F. Lefcowitz

Seeking shelter from sudden rain
I find myself illiterate
in a bookshop on Fujhou Road,
flip the pages for their pictures alone:
a dragon with sharp wings, a woman
in distress, her hair stiff harplike strings;
fruits & crude replications
of the great T’ang & Sung rockscapes,
paper slick, colors a surprise
of vermilions & mustard greens.

Though I am taller than almost all
the shop’s customers, I feel myself
turning smaller & smaller,
a bean, a leaf, a worm that can crawl
through the apple-round earth,
emerge on the reverse of the alphabet,
if only I could find
the right crack between the characters,
those taunting black shapes,
boxed & crossed antennae, locked windows,
pitched rooves on the signs & posters,
row upon row of book covers.

When I turn to the mirror
I see instead of my face
a woman born to eat,
dig roots in a field,
serve her master & sleep
on a bed of stones, her dreams
cut by the sharp wings of dragons
as they pluck the stiff hair
of women in distress.

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