The Photo Flies to the Land of Morals

‘So some really are more equal than others: at least the leading members of the Communist Party don’t have to worry about their tea during the sessions of the Chinese People’s Congress in Peking. Hostesses keep replenishing their cups with hot water’.

‘Teatime in Peking’, photo caption, Süddeutsche Zeitung (9th March 2007), p. 1.


Trampling the overnight snow,
whoever you are that delivers
yesterday to this morning,
in your all-weather jacket, bearing
the stories I need to know,

you bring me an idea of order:
the porcelain mugs of delegates
attentive at shining desks,
and the red jackets and black slacks
of young women adding hot water.

The image waits like a nail
in the hills: an ore to find and smelt,
a wire to draw, straighten, cut,
grind at the top for the head,
then trade, drive and retail.

Adam, the first Capitalist,
labour-divider, would’ve known it.
My part’s the table. The kettle’s
at work. The leaves have the pot:
rocks in a dark pit.


Of the twelve, one wears gold epaulettes;
one, zebra-striped lapels on blue.
The rest remain in dark suits,
a style that brews no dissent.
They thumb the numbered directives.

The one in the act of sipping
has strewn his hair across his patch,
seaweed clinging to a wet rock.
They are about to recognize
private property. They sip and sit.

Backs to the lens, the secretaries of tea
ascend the cinematic stairs,
trimmed by runners, extend
their hands to a mug: the bosses
hunch in focus. The hostesses? Three

are blurred. On the right,
on the left, the red jackets march
in this Constructivist fresco,
ladder of metal edging,
office block seen from one side.


Under the delegates’ wings,
the taxi driver slurps from a jar.
The opening door. Ni qu nar?
Tealeaves swirling all day around
the five-lane circulars, growth rings

that burst with haze and fumes,
and the enormous tragedy of the motorcade.
Passengers pour hot water
from steel boilers in each coach.
To each their convenience noodles.

And the same floral flasks top up –
in households, halls, hotels
from Kashgar to Harbin –
the lidded mugs, the porcelain pots,
the see-through plastic cups.


Over and above this congress
hangs the Red Star, with sickle,
hammer, and space for the microchip.
Over and above this hall
and the minority headdresses,

come from the nail-bearing hills,
the grasslands and plateaux,
the lands of the waterwheel, a jet-trail
falls apart behind the delegation,
above roads that jam the nostrils.

Coffee progresses down the aisle.
An inflight magazine reports
how a red giant must implode,
collapse to a white dwarf,
and then into a black hole.


Deguo: the Land of Morals.
Towards the Prussian walls
and Foster’s glass dome,
along the taut walkway
the delegation strolls

over water that curves and glistens,
towards levels of buildings linked
inside buildings behind glass
fronts for offices, tennis courts
and Abstract Expressionism.

That evening they attend the show
at the House of World Cultures,
a thin-shell structure that closed
for a crew to film a vision
of total reproductive control.

Standing in their crimson blazers,
the young Bulgarians and Brazilians
hang coats in numbered lines.
No audience’s heads in the morning
papers, only the dancers’ faces.


[Alistair Noon's publications include the chapbooks At The Emptying of Dustbins (Oystercatcher), In People's Park (Penumbra) and, as translator, Sixteen Poems: Monika Rinck (Barque). His translations of Pushkin and Mandelstam are online at Horizon Review. He lives in Berlin.]

Copyright © 2010 by Alistair Noon, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.