Nick Laird reads

The Hall of Medium Harmony

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In lieu of a Gideon Bible
           the bedside table drawer
has a Lonely Planet Guide to China
           and a year-old Autotrader.

You skim through the soft-tops, the imports,
           the salvage & breakers,
then pick up the book. Over there
           they are eight hours ahead

so it must be approximately dawn
           in the Forbidden City,
where something might evade the guides
           already at the entrance,

might glide right past the lion-dogs
           on guard, asleep in bronze,
might fire the dew on the golden tiles,
           ignite each phoenix on its ridge.

Light. Nine-thousand nine-hundred
           and ninety-nine rooms
begin to warm under its palm.
           Here, in the book, is a diagram.

There is the Hall of Union and Peace.
           The Hall of Medium Harmony.
The Meridian Gate. The Imperial Library.
           The inner golden bridges.

You fidget. You are, you admit, one of
           the earth’s more nervous passengers.
But it’s different, this, a reasonable space.
           In the palace of an afternoon

a child-king hiding in the curtain
           listening. For a second apart
from the turn of the thing, for a second
           forgetting the narrative’s forfeit —

how nothing can outlast its loss,
           that solace is found, if at all,
in the silence that follows each footstep
           let fall on the black lacquer floor

of the now, of the here, where you are,
           in the sunlight, blinking, abroad.