Chinese Chest
by Steve Klepetar

Bought in Shanghai seventy years ago,
carried to America by my refugee parents,
a chest made of mahogany so deep brown
that in shadow it appears plum purple.
Some deft craftsman carved every surface —
pagodas, with their delicate roofs
like conical hats; a tree with huge,
round clusters of leaves;
and everywhere men with topknots
in long robes bowing slightly
at the waist, formal and serene,
or seated in small groups drinking tea, eating rice.
On the top a muscular horse prances
as a servant tugs at his bridle
and a warrior with a tall spear stares impassively,
as if the world were beautiful and calm.
Behind many graceful walls, in sweetened air,
women remain invisible at their tasks.
No wind stirs the scene: starvation and blood
transformed by ritual, frozen into a moment of infinite peace.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: My parents were Holocaust survivors and part of the refugee community in Shanghai, China, known as the “Shanghailanders.” They bought this beautiful chest around 1947 for what must have been a very low price, because they had little money. They lived in one room and cooked on a hot plate. The chest always had pride of place in our various apartments as I was growing up. I inherited it when my mother died on September 10, 2016, and it sits in my study where I am writing these words.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Steve Klepetar’s work has appeared widely. His poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. Recent collections include My Son Writes a Report on the Warsaw Ghetto and The Li Bo Poems, both from Flutter Press, and Family Reunion, forthcoming from Big Table Publishing.