Poems about the V&A: 'Dynasties' by Nii Parkes
Clang of silence in my head:
Struck mute by the beauty of bowls
Jade, ceramic, round, formless, delicate
Sturdy, lidded, open
Lustrous like eyes in flashing light.
Dynasties pass me by at the speed of sirens
Ming, Shang, Tang, Qing, Zhou;
Knife-sharp, porcelain-smooth transition
Into tiered levels of creativity.
I see a boy bearing tea
In a Song dynasty glazed stone bowl
In Fujian. In his bearing lives
His great grandfather
40 generations before inhaling
The tunnelled tang of smoke
From a Shang dynasty pipe;
The seas between them travelled
By the great sailors of the early Ming dynasty
As they fell under the spell of stars
And the magnetism of the earth's poles
Leaving wrecked junks in their wake
For the world to discover with glee.
Leaving maps for bumbling
To follow and stake claim to lands and seas
And will they turn in their graves;
This boy, his ancestors, these sailors
As their imagination is paraded
In glass cases in the world's museums?
Will they raise their hands
In dark and forbidding rooms
Where men with paper come to bid
To own China's teacups and dinner plates?
Will their cries be heard
As written history attempts to rewrite
Their burnt documents, explain away
Their relics and far-flung monuments?
Or will they wait
Until figurines dancing in blue nothingness
The hulls of junk ships in American waters
And the hollow insides of ancient mines
All rise like ghosts
To usurp the authority claimed by historians
And little captions on display cases
To tell their own story?
About the author
Nii Ayikwei Parkes was born in the UK in 1974 and raised in Ghana, West Africa. He writes poetry, prose and articles and is the author of three poetry chapbooks; 'eyes of a boy, lips of a man' (1999) and 'M is for Madrigal' (2004) and the self-published 'shorter' (2005), which is a vehicle to raise money for a writers' fund in Ghana.
Nii has performed poetry all over the world on major stages like the NuYorican in New York, The Royal Festival Hall in London, Java in Paris and Paradiso in Amsterdam as well as at festivals such as the Lancaster Literature Festival and the Austin International Poetry Festival. In 2002 he completed a six-week tour of the United States, and in 2003 he was given an Arts Council Award for his just completed novel, The Cost of Red Eyes, which was the subject of a recent radio documentary on the publishing industry. Nii was a 2005 associate Writer-In-Residence on BBC Radio 3 and was the featured face for poetry in the 2004 Time Out London Guide.