Poetry in Motion

Poetry in Motion: A Treatise on the Meaning of Flowers

Hi everyone! I’m almost done with finals, which means I should be posting more soon! In the meantime, here’s another poem from my final workshop packet–in fact, it was the first poem written for the class. Our very first assignment was to write about the ultimate poetic cliche–flowers–in a way that isn’t cliched. You can judge how well I’ve succeeded, but I was happy that my first poem had a nod to my Chinese heritage. I’d return to this in later poems. Hope you enjoy! 

“A Treatise on the Meaning of Flowers”


In China, the Perfect Gentleman can be painted in four flowers.

Plum-blossoms bloom from winter’s bitterness and coldness,

Orchids were once shamelessly moralist but now mostly ornamental,

Chrysanthemums have been hijacked by Japan so we don’t talk about them.

The fourth gentleman is bamboo, which isn’t a flower but has a gentlemanly shape.


The most hated flower in all of China is duckweed,

Lowlier than the dandelion, which actually is a weed,

And azaleas, which can kill you but look fabulous doing so,

Even the magnolia, hijacked by Paul Thomas Anderson.

We don’t like duckweed because it floats adrift with no roots,

Nothing to ground it, no gentlemen or bamboo.

It’s very ugly, the smallest flower in the world;

It wouldn’t be permitted on paintings or qipaos even if it behaved itself.


To float is suspect for a flower;

So-called flower boats are prettier than duckweed but floating brothels.

But then again, the Perfect Lady floats;

So-called lotus feet are lovely because they’re bound.


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