The Cabbage

By Peter O’Donovan

after Jadeite Cabbage with Insects,
National Palace Museum, Taipei

Stumbling from the Qing exhibit
beauty-drunk on shape and glazes,
those flowing cerulean blues,
I heard a massing up the stairs,
a faint concentration calling
this pack of grannies rushing past,
with little charges almost electric,
an upward flood flowing to a plain
of people, pressing tour groups
enveloping some thing scarcely
visible, some dim verdant smudge.

I waded in, past the stragglers,
the dawdlers, the bored-slow slackers,
past the PRC operatives
skillfully disguised as sightseers
or weeping children, past the pious,
the museum completionists,
past them all, to the front,
the fore: a bok choy
cabbage, barely there,
about the size of
disappointment.

Mostly stem, a pale translucence
etched with veins, gentle
threads curving up discolored
jade, blotchy, cracked
but weaving its flaws into
form, into ruffled leaves of
sea-green, broad blades
glistening in half-light with
two grasshoppers in
hiding, revealing themselves by angles,

the slant of a leg not quite part
of that smooth verdure, that
soft sway of the foliage
folding down
beneath the insects’ careful weight.

And then, I sensed it. A
movement in the stems.
The faintest flicker
in the leaves, and
beneath, the eye of the
locust beginning to glide
with all the swiftness of stone,
taking in this crowded,
quickened place,
this tempest-blur
of a time, this
maelstrom age,
this brief, sudden day.


Peter O’Donovan is a scientist and writer living in Seattle. Originally from the Canadian prairies, O’Donovan received his doctorate from the University of Toronto, studying design aesthetics. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in the Atlanta Review, Orange Blossom Review, River Heron Review, Qwerty, Typehouse Literary Magazine, and elsewhere.

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