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First Day in Nanchang by John Grey

John Grey’s poem ‘First Day in Nanchang’ for Silk + Smoke Issue 2 explores people watching and absorbing culture through the joy of quotidian moments.

A good way to spend time,
sitting outside a tea-kiosk.
contemplating the engraving of a lotus flower
halfway up the side of the local Bank Of Communications.
It’s my own temple,
surely worth a couplet or two,
in homage to the ancestors
of all who pass me by.

A camphor laurel blows its siren scents my way.
Children practice their calligraphy on the sidewalk.
I could visit the cultural center
but there’s enough culture here,
in the open air, the cobblestone streets,
from the old, bearded man puffing on his pipe,
some serious Mahjong players,
a painter in the traditional style,
and walls bedecked in photos of local VIPS,
and quotations from Chairman Mao,
direct from the cultural revolution.

I do have tickets to the opera in my pocket.
And I’ve planned an afternoon at the museum
with some artefacts from the middle and late Ch’ing Dynasty,
where ancient Emperors rule the past,
and a blue-water pond ripples in the garden.

But, for now, I’m willing to watch
the swallows in their nest,
listen to a young girl sing in a high shrill,
sip hot tea that’s as green as I was yesterday.

Read this while listening to ‘China Nights’ by Kyu Sakamato.


John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Sin Fronteras, Dalhousie Review and Qwerty with work upcoming in Plainsongs, Willard and Maple and Connecticut River Review.

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