Untempered

She was born in the year of the Ox

when the ground was hard and nothing

grew except for vines and bittermelon

From a yellowing photograph a child

stared back clutching a false bouquet

lifted from an empty can of milk powder

She was born in a year when photographs

were no longer taken from behind a velvet drape

Instead a man held a flash above his head

and counted or counted over

When called upon in school she hung her head

or looked at her shoes while reciting the times table

One could stretch the coils of telephone wire

just like the tendrils of certain green vegetables

In the ground there are still so many

homely but unkillable things

Coal and potatoes quartz and raw ore

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