Tan Tien

By Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge b. 1947 Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge
As usual, the first gate was modest. It is dilapidated. She can’t tell
which bridge crossed the moat, which all cross sand now, disordered with footsteps.
It’s a precise overlay of circles on squares, but she has trouble locating
the main avenue and retraces her steps in intense heat for the correct entrance,
which was intentionally blurred, the  way a round arch can give onto a red wall,
far enough in back of the arch for sun to light.

If being by yourself separates from your symmetry, which is
the axis of your spine in the concrete sense, but becomes a suspension
in your spine like a layer of sand under the paving stones of a courtyard
or on a plain, you have to humbly seek out a person who can listen to you,
on a street crowded with bicycles at night, their bells ringing.

And any stick or straight line you hold can be your spine,
like a map she is following in French of Tan Tien. She wants space to fall
to each side of her like traction, not weight dispersed within a mirror. At any time,
an echo of what she says will multiply against the walls in balanced,
dizzying jumps like a gyroscope in the heat, but she is alone.

Later, she would remember herself as a carved figure and its shadow on a blank board,
but she is her balancing stick, and the ground to each side of her is its length,
disordered once by an armored car, and once by an urn of flowers at a crossing.
The stick isn’t really the temple’s bisection around her, like solstice or ancestor.
This Tang Dynasty peach tree would be parallel levitation in the spine
the person recording it.

Slowly the hall looms up. The red stair’s outline gives way to its duration
as it extends and rises at a low angle.
In comparison to the family, the individual hardly counts, but they all
wait for her at a teahouse inside the wall.
First the gold knob, then blue tiers above the highest step,
the same color as the sky.

When one person came to gain confidence,
she imagines he felt symmetry as flight after his fast among seven meteorites
in the dark. He really felt like a globe revolving within a globe.
Even the most singular or indivisible particle or heavenly sphere will adjust
when the axis extending beyond itself is pushed, or the sphere it is within
is pushed. What she thought was her balance flattens into a stylized dragon
on the marble paving stones.

Yet she’s reluctant to leave the compound. Only the emperor
could walk its center line. Now, anyone can imagine how it felt
to bring heaven news. She is trying to remember this in Hong Kong
as the tram pulls suddenly above skyscrapers and the harbor
and she flattens against her seat, like a reversal occurring in the poles,
or what she meant by, no one can imagine how.


Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, "Tan Tien" from I Love Artists. Copyright © 2006 by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge.  Reprinted by permission of University of California Press.

Source: I Love Artists (University of California Press, 2006)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge b. 1947

POET’S REGION U.S., Southwestern

Subjects Activities, Travels & Journeys, Arts & Sciences, Architecture & Design, Social Commentaries, History & Politics

 Mei-Mei  Berssenbrugge

Biography

Berssenbrugge was born in Beijing, the daughter of a Chinese mother and an American father who was the son of Dutch immigrants. Her mother was a mathematician, and her maternal grandmother received a college education in prerevolutionary China. Her father was employed at the American Embassy in Chungking, and later pursued Far Eastern studies at Harvard University. Her family moved to the United States when she was a year old. . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Activities, Travels & Journeys, Arts & Sciences, Architecture & Design, Social Commentaries, History & Politics

POET’S REGION U.S., Southwestern

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.