The following poem is dedicated to a whole generation of women - that would have been my grandmother's generation - who did hand-painting on china and many of us in my generation have their hand-painted china in our china cupboards that we get out on special occasions and so on. And I've always been fascinated by that generation and their handwork and so on and this poem is a little tribute to them.

The China Painters


They have set aside their black tin boxes,
scratched and dented,
spattered with drops of pink and blue;
and their dried-up, rolled-up tubes
of alizarin crimson, chrome green,
zinc white, and ultramarine;
their vials half full of gold powder;
stubs of wax pencils;
frayed brushes with tooth-bitten shafts;
and have gone in fashion and with grace
into the clouds of loose, lush roses,
narcissus, pansies, columbine,
on teapots, chocolate pots,
saucers and cups, the good Haviland dishes
spread like a garden
on the white lace Sunday cloth,
as if their souls were bees
and the world had been nothing but flowers.

from Delights and Shadows: Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2004), © Ted Kooser 2004, used by permission of the author and the publisher, Copper Canyon Press, P O Box 271, Port Townsend, WA 98368-0271. Poetry Foundation recording made on 10 July 2007, Lincoln, Nebraska

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