Magnificent Things

by | Sep 28, 2016 | Poetry

In an ocean of ashes, islands of order. Patterns making themselves out of nothing. I can’t show you how deep it goes. Each picture is a detail of the previous one, blown up. And so on. For ever. –Thomas Stoppard, “Arcadia”


Last month, a lone peacock
flared his tail as I photographed
a rose in his enclosure,

magnificent things
flailing in the whistling
April wind.

A memory of years ago,
my mother calling out:
Piao liang, pretty bird,
won’t you open your tail?

A peacock’s tail is a sign
of good things to come.
In her lifetime,
it never happened.

I watch the peacock turning,
a silent waltz in the grass,
patterned tail fanned out,
waving like a skeleton hand.

How delicate the feathers,
tattered strings of a sail
struggling against the wind.
How flimsy their magnificence.


The warmest I’ve felt
since my mother died
was last night with you,

the ocean sunset behind us,
its iridescence caught in the patterns
of my half-awake dreams.

Fragmented images from Arcadia
a final waltz, a magnificent fire,
fractal perfection of a rose—

rediscovery of meaning no substitute
for initial loss, a repertoire
of tiny tragedies lost to the ashes.

I wept as the clock ticked
forward, burning moment
down to memory. It was always
a ghost in the making.


In nine minutes you’ll be
another year older. You miss
the moment, asleep beside me,
adrift in magnificent oblivion.

Already I miss you,
not as you are but a future
in which you are not. Inevitable.

There’s a weird mole on your back.

It could be a year or five.
Twenty, fifty-two.
I’m always waiting.

Did you make an appointment?

In the dark, I rehearse
my slow waltz with loss.
I know the steps by heart.




Photo “Peacock” by Danny Perez used under Creative Commons License (BY-NC-ND-2.0)

About The Author


Jenny Qi is the author of the debut poetry collection Focal Point, winner of the 2020 Steel Toe Books Poetry Award. Her essays and poems have been published in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Tin House, Rattle, ZYZZYVA, and elsewhere, and she has received fellowships from Tin House, Omnidawn, Kearny Street Workshop, and the San Francisco Writers Grotto. Born in Pennsylvania to Chinese immigrants, she grew up mostly in Las Vegas and Nashville and now lives in San Francisco, where she completed her Ph.D. in Cancer Biology. She is working on more essays and poems and translating her late mother’s memoirs of the Chinese Cultural Revolution and immigration to the U.S.

Books by Jenny Qi

Jenny Qi