Issue > Poetry
Esther Lin

Esther Lin

Esther Lin is a 2015 Poets House Emerging Poet as well as a Queens Council on the Arts Fellow, with poems forthcoming in Newtown Literary. She received her MFA from Columbia University and teaches at Queens College, CUNY.

Tell Me Where The Past Is And I'll Learn Better

There's one way to talk about beauty
and it hasn't changed since Spanish ponies,
born from wreckage off the coast
of Assateague, swam to become island
wildings, alone and windblown. Feral.  
American. Hasn't changed since
the vase painter of Attica chose
a flutist and dancer for her subject
in the fire. It's twenty fourteen that I love
this girl on panpipes. She peers down
at her hands at work, one foot hitched up
as if she too were to spring to dance.
But no. The making of this music
pins her to her seat, the black behind her
not the field of the contending mind
but its best warmth, a gift to her
compatriot who works without instrument,
save the spinning dress and upraised arms
elegant in honor of the next time
she would see the flutist and ask her
to play in celebration of their friendship.
And so with my sisters and me, on that
island known for its salt-eating horses,
where we promised to return year after year
for a swim and reminder of what carries us
aloft in the darkening waters, whether it's
refusal or a special imagination on how
to flourish without a mother. Mother,
and one flows to the sacred hair-braidings
laying out of clothes, sacred good mornings.
One flows to these things even if there was
none but what a child understands
of capture and release, before and after,
while the sun is pinking the beachgrass
and the Atlantic grays. And how these
restate all I want to ask about motherlessness,
of how it's possible not to vanish because
she does. I don't mean this as a keening
of grief, though others agree it must be.
The vase painter has long since vanished,
and the two continue practicing their love.
It's that easy, yes?
An old thought, and so is its arrival, rolling
in like the water. Like the pitching arms
of a young woman still learning her craft.

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