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Clear Tea


Recipient of the 2012 Adroit Prize for Poetry
Judge: Chloe Honum

At fifteen, they thought
Her a fine, thinly blued vase:
Something to fill
With poetry, clear tea, just
Another butterfly clip there,
A cinch of the waist, ready
For the red sashes, the rice wine,
The heady incense of nuptials.

The carriage was carved
Out of thousand-year-old cherry wood.
Her slippers felt small, uneven.
She was a small child again,
Both feet sunk in snow, lost
Among barren gardens
And frozen ponds.

Have the cats eaten all the koi?
She scrambled to sit
On the carriage cushions
But slipped, and fell–
She tried to climb the shrunken bonsai,
But tripped over the first branch.

Her fingers latched onto a cushion
As she pulled herself up. Outside,
The fanfare was already starting.
Even through
The silken screen she felt
Sunlight pricking at her face,
The scarlet of silk wrapped tightly
About her.

One hundred fifty handmaidens
Followed her to the gates of Chang’an,
But no farther. As she heard the sound
Of a one hundred fifty gilded fans sliding shut,
It occurred to her that they couldn’t
Possibly carry her to the Mongolian heartland
On a cherrywood carriage.

At Ningxia,
they strapped her onto a horse. Guards
wrapped in steel plates rode all around her
for miles. She stared at the dry grasslands
ahead and thought of her brother,
sitting on their father’s dragon-carved throne
in flowing robes of yellow.

All this for one year’s peace.

She clenched at the saddle of the horse
and became convinced that the tall, rippling grass
curved in scythes.

A white-feathered bird winged past.
As it passed over her entourage,
An archer raised his bow and loosed an arrow.
And it fell, circling a bit,
like a cloud of fog
drifting toward the ground. Dissipating
somewhere further along the path to Karakorum.

Stephanie Guo is sixteen, and a rising junior in high school at Canyon Crest Academy. She is the recipient of two Gold Medals and two Silver Medals from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, and has been published in Hanging Loose, as well as the fourth issue of The Adroit Journal.