In the National Palace Museum, Taiwan

by Sarah Wardle

Here in this entrepreneurial State
they work in night markets and evening school.
A Ming porcelain bowl shows Dragon Gate,
where a carp rises from a cobalt pool

to become that creature in mist above,
a symbol of strength, of the emperor,
of success – a concept these people love,
who fled from a communist conqueror.

In their port cargoes prepare to embark.
In their World Trade Centre the day’s begun.
China Steel is the scale of a theme park.
Textile factory machines run and run.

But see how each busy capitalist
stares serenely through an exhibit’s glass
to gaze at lotus flowers, a phoenix,
or philosophers on a mountain path.

Yesterday life was faster and fuller than this,
when I arrived here, barefoot, with clenched fist,
ready to kick and punch. Yes, I fought.
Having travelled the earth to find him, I was distraught,
seeking him who came to me divinely in the night,
always in darkness, invisible, so that it might
all have been a dream, but one I believed.

I journeyed here, hoping to be received
in this, his house, his palace, his temple,
with him at the top of the aisle by the oracle,
extending his hand like a bridegroom. It was a trick.
I tried to escape, ran down corridors, looked for an exit,
like Theseus without Ariadne’s thread.

It was no good. I was surrounded,
trapped like an animal caught in the nets. I’d be fed
to the Minotaur, or to one of the heads
of the Hydra. By fighting I only made matters worse:
seven sentries appeared, where before was one nurse.

I climbed on the couches, knocked over a chair,
hid in an alcove to block out the glare
of a light. Cupid was nowhere. The voices of my sisters screamed,
“He’s not your lover! He’s a monster!” In a living dream
I’d become Odysseus in the Cyclops’ cave,
about to be swallowed without a chance of being saved.

They said No One would hurt me, but I guessed their game:
I knew that No One was Somebody’s name.
They sharpened a needle for the eye of my mind,
speared it in, till I felt myself fade and go blind,
freefalling into a blackened abyss,
forever shut out from the day, like Oedipus.

Then I turned into Sisyphus pushing a rock,
as I struggled to keep awake, to swim back to the top.
Next I was Aeneas in Hades, the nurses were ghosts.
I was Psyche again when I awoke.

This room is silent now. On the door is a number
in washable ink. I wear a hospital toga.
When the nurse comes in with more drugs, she will say
in a mocking tone, “How is Aeneas today?”
Yes, yesterday with racing thoughts and clenched fist,
I can say life was faster and fuller than this.