• Noah Dehli

Porcelain Girl

Based on “Manchu Woman's Robe for Birthday Celebration (with Roundels of Deer and Cranes in a Garden)”; creator unknown, 19th century.



tell me i look beautiful in that fake traditional way,

as you pin up black hair and paint my eyebrows (darkly).

“Hēisè.” You say

the Mandarin word for Black. “A symbol of power and authority.”

even as my red rouge lips choke with trained deference, I mouth the word ‘fake’—Jiǎ de—and I do not believe you.


dress me up and smile with that toil-sewn silk sigh;

the jovial gown that shackles my shoulders,

my bound feet hide beneath the folds of cultural debt—

the giants’ sleeves press my arms to my sides and grin, clinging to my arms

like relatives who make themselves feel better by giving you presents.


you’ve changed my face and dressed me in an ornery prison

Now fire me in a kiln.

burn my skin hard ceramic, ‘táocí zhìpǐn’:

when lectures scream at me about propriety, you will no longer cut through me like wet clay,

you will parade my face with scars, brushes dipped in imported Persian cobalt

—blue, Lán sè, a lucky color—



The mirror looks at me, my paint-bruised skin ravaged by expectations.

I do not see the cobalt streaks as luck,

I want to erase the black in my irises, and hair, and eyebrows;

power is amalgam, and authority has never been mine to command


you, heavy under fabric,

with your neck craned and lips clamped,

with your feet crumpled and crushed

you say I should be happy to wear this birthday robe


And I do not believe you

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