The National Catholic Review

The Silk Road never came to Cleveland.
But here, a thousand years adrift,
two women work a great loom
beneath the science museum.

 

One woman balances overhead,
poised as a bird on a branch;
an impossible thing, warped as an Escher,
this woman on the tree of the loom,
gathering silk strings in her hand,
while her companion weaves
patterns onto golden fabric:
flower, leaf, branch.

I have read about empires, soldiers,
the Great Wall, gunpowder, fireworks,
all of it strange and fantastical,
but not as preposterous as this notice
informing visitors that after a day’s labor
—fingers, eyes, back aching—
a weaver would climb down to view
four inches of finished brocade.

Four inches.
Even if the mandarins
praised craft and crafters,
even if the weavers took joy
in catching beauty in their hands,
even then, I see only
the tall trees of the looms.

And the birds in them
unable to fly.

Mary Soon Lee’s poems have appeared in American Scholar, Main Street Rag, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and St. Anthony Messenger; her story collection, Ebb Tides and Other Tales, was published by Dark Regions Press in 2002.

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