Historic District

A poem

The present leaks across the past
like motor oil over water, acrid
rainbow on reflected sky,
on backlit silhouette of you
against the reconstructed ancient
dignitary’s mansion. Go in.
A paper lantern fits on the electric bulb.
The threshold rises halfway up your shins,
the courtyard’s paved with crescent flagstones
fanning out in waves to mime
a sea the dignitary’s wife had
lived beside in childhood and missed.
They lap the stagnant gray-green
of the ornamental pond whose koi
float blurry streaks of orange
and acid-bitten rocks called “cloud
skeletons” adorn an island you
can reach across the humpbacked
bridge where girls in rayon imitations
of Qing gowns zipped over jeans
are posing. The vendors hawk
white popsicles. Their crumpled wrappers
drift along the wall toward alleys
of the unrestored old houses
set to be replaced with condos named
for the historic district, mostly
unlit now, though an occasional
fluorescent glow shows through
the newsprint-covered panes
and often you see boots lined on a sill
to dry, one pair somehow
with two still-steaming golden flatbreads
balanced on the shafts, and pasted
here and there on oxblood doors
a shiny placard of the character for “fortune”
hanging upside down, “upturned”
being a homonym for “comes here.”