Grace Yee: longest imperial dragon

longest imperial dragon

in the heritage reading room the eyes are dry, and the throat.
there are many right brain fatalities, illness from scurvy, a ten-
pound landing tax. without fail, they give multiple versions

of ‘no’: ‘ask your father’ ‘don’t bet on it’ ‘wait and try again’.
sun-loong 新 龍, the world’s longest imperial dragon, poses a
major architectural challenge. He is over one hundred metres

long, his head weighs twenty-nine kilograms and he needs to
leave the museum at easter. the doctor at the superclinic
listens to the suppuration – a grieving – in my lungs. eat the

right foods, discard evil spirits, lie low on the floor, remember:
life is good because arable land was scarce in tai-shan 台山
and your fathers walked three hundred and twenty-three

miles without female companionship from robe to the bendigo
goldfields. in 1857, 205464 ounces of gold were shipped to
canton china from the victorian goldfields at various levels

of seaworthiness. twenty-five years later, the community
imported one hundred wooden cases of processional regalia,
designed with chinese symbolism in mind. highest quality,

bright and colourful. the sartorial epitome was a well-made
silk jacket embroidered with four-clawed dragons surrounded
by red and blue cirrus clouds. even the supposedly

androgynous gun-yum 觀音 would agree that we need wiles
to survive. but women’s clothing tends to be flimsy and poorly
made, and chain stitch, while more textured, has a sturdier

effect on the lines trailing up our skirts. bookman old style is
too sedate for this poem, sans serifs more appropriate for
dismantling. one of my students is passionate about russian

formalism and defamiliarization: a most promising frame for
white chrysanthemums and burning paper boats and houses,
for on this altar, all gods are alienated. they excluded

yeh-yeh 爺 爺 from the army because he had the horns
of a deer, the eyes of a rabbit, and non-european ancestry.
additionally, his spleen was too vigorous. listen to your

migraines, your burning hands – they are shutting down our
subjectivities. numerologically speaking, 2020 is a 9-year, a
year of incurable endings. the fortune-teller said, watch out

for a man with two heads more interested in the snapshot of
your smashed-up car and the blood on your face than your
lingering epistaxis. paw-paw 婆婆 said, the way through the

immigration restriction act is through the prime minister’s
stomach. before the second world war, chinese restaurants
became gwei-lo-鬼佬 palatable. when I landed, the offices

were still monotone. in 1887 the exotica of sandhurst town –
its tea importers, herbalists, three opium dealers – burned to
the ground. in the aftermath, our people developed dysphasia

and difficulties breathing, and the town looked suspiciously
like some of the pages had been copied and scanned and cut
to fit their particular dialect. sun-loong 新 龍 is a strict

vegetarian. they feed him pomelo leaves. his body is covered
with six thousand silk scales, each decorated with twenty-three
tiny hand-cut mirrors, and his eyes are dotted with blood

wrung from chickens. who will save us when the oceans are
burning and we can no longer sail home? we are all the time
treading water and nursing our amnesias, waving flags – not

white like surrender, funerals, and zirconia dental crowns, but
red, like sun niang 新娘 , mun-yue 滿月 and April 15, 1983:
sun-loong 新 龍 bowing nine times to prince charles and

princess diana looking down from the balcony of the shamrock
hotel in bendigo. auspicious ancestral meanings – highest
quality, bright and colourful. in the presence of royalty,

the universe clears like cloud and wind and camphor.

Note: Italicised phrases in this poem borrowed from: Golden Dragon Museum. The Golden Dragon Museum Presents the 1880s Processional Regalia of the Bendigo Chinese Association. Bendigo, VIC: Golden Dragon Museum 2010.

Grace Yee is a Creative Fellow at the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, where she is working on a collection of poems inspired by the histories of settler Chinese in Melbourne and regional Victoria. Her poetry, fictions and critical essays have appeared in numerous publications, including Cordite Poetry Review, Overland, Meanjin, Feminist Writers Festival, New Zealand Poetry Yearbook and The Shanghai Literary Review. Grace teaches Creative Writing at the University of Melbourne, and Literary Studies Research at Deakin University.