Chrysanthemum by Fiona Tinwei Lam

Rolls of rice paper in the corner,
jars of soft-haired brushes,
elegant cakes of watercolour,
black inkstone at the centre.

My mother held the brush vertically,
never slant, arm and fingers poised,
distilling bird or breeze into
diligent rows of single characters.

Hours rippled.  Years of practice urged
the true strokes forth– stiff bamboo
now waving in white air, cautious lines
now ribboning silk folds of a woman’s gown.

My favourite of her paintings
was of chrysanthemums.  They began
as five arcs of ink, long breaths in the emptiness
alluding to stem and blossom.  Then,

from the finest brush, the outline of each petal.
Flesh flowed from the fuller one, tipped
with yellow or lavender, until every crown
bloomed amid the throng of leaves.

If only I had been paper,
a delicate, upturned face stroked
with such precise tenderness.


Copyright © Fiona Tinwei Lam. Originally published in The New Quarterly (Spring/Summer 2009) and also appears in Enter the Chrysanthemum (Caitlin Press, 2009).


Fiona Tinwei Lam‘s latest book of poetry is Odes & Laments (Caitlin Press 2019). She edited The Bright Well: Canadian Poems on Facing Cancer, and co-edited Love Me True: Writers on the Ins, Outs, Ups & Downs of Marriage. She has won The New Quarterly’s Nick Blatchford prize and was a finalist for the City of Vancouver Book Award. Her work appears in over thirty anthologies, including The Best Canadian Poetry in English and Forcefield: 77 Women Poets of BC. Her poetry videos have screened at festivals locally and internationally. She teaches at Simon Fraser University’s Continuing Studies. Find Fiona on Twitter @FTinweiL.

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