“Ekphrastic of Diē” by Cheryl Chen

Poetry Pause celebrates the winners of the 2024 Jessamy Stursberg Poetry Prize for young writers! Read “Ekphrastic of Diē” by Cheryl Chen, second place winner of the senior category.

Ekphrastic of Diē

By Cheryl Chen

It’s August and you’re searching for him one last time

while the sky’s still agape and saint-bright, your

limbs stretched heavenward where you hope to meet

the man, the father, the enigma:

a portrait painter famous among the birds and

other fly-things for being an elusive little fuck.

& yet you find him, sitting placid by his easel, a damsel-duck.

Feathers whiter and more misted than the clouds swirling around him;

face more ancient than the sky you fall into.


You’ll be naked under his hand, soft white underbelly. You know this because

of his eyes and the way they reach for you like you’re a foreign itch, pupils

hooked to hands, hands held on brush, brush blooming divots of your face you’ve

never witnessed before onto the canvas.

O the truth he makes of you. O the truth he makes of himself, as you

watch him watch you watch him

thinning into a crisp paper crane,

wings bent at an angle meant to be hung in heaven.


Paper limbs reaching for you forever ago: a tender violence,

two sides of a wound embracing each other

because they are the same skin. You want to ask him what to do

with your hands. Fold them in my lap?

Burst into plumes?


In Chinese, the word for father is diē.

You look at him, a pitch away from death. A ruffle, a shudder

& you fold your skin, two




times over and tuck yourself under his

wrinkled eyelids, his wrungout

sleeves, his silvered hair, his sagging cheeks,

his arms, his wings.


Your hands don’t matter anymore.


Because the portrait is finished.

Because all you see is the painter, cradling your face under his color

& suddenly he is your father

& suddenly he is your father

& suddenly he is your father.

Copyright © Cheryl Chen

Cheryl Chen is a grade 11 student. Cheryl’s poem “Ekphrastic of Diē” won second place in the senior category of the 2024 Jessamy Stursberg Poetry Prize.

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