“Old Chinese Women” by Meredith Johnson

Meredith Johnson


Most of them travel by bicycle.
They move like witches in a fairy tale,
old and wise and able to dance between rain.

I watch from my window as they move
through the market: this one buys a dumpling,
while that one stacks cabbages in a basket.

Rain lays a gloss over everything.
My teacher, a man with rimmed glasses,
has taught me the rules of Chinese painting.

A landscape, he said, must always
contain a place of entry.
The water should never stop moving.

These women, so wrinkled, have raised daughters
like chickens and sold their little birds
to the men who came wanting fresh meat.

Now they live alone, cook onions for dinner,
scrape warts off their feet with the end of a ladle.
Where you have nothing, you have something.

The void is the soul of all paintings.
Yes, the gaps are unbreachable
in this mountain-growing country.

So I watch from my window
while the traffic rolls forward.
They are moving, these women,

as if time were a vegetable to eat slowly
for dinner—as if bicycles were mountains
that could raise them to the sky.

from Rattle #24, Winter 2005

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