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This poem is taken from PN Review 237, Volume 44 Number 1, September - October 2017.

Three Poems Mary Jean Chan
Three Sonnets: Versions from the Twenty-Four Filial Exemplars

Èrshísì Xiào or the Twenty-Four Filial Exemplars is a classic text of Confucian filial piety written during the Yuan Dynasty (1260–1368), and has been used as an example of how Chinese children should honour their parents.


He Lay Down on Ice in Search of Carp

One of the strangest, this: how a boy mistreated
by his stepmother still tried to satisfy her cravings
for carp, sought out the frozen lake and thawed the ice with
naked flesh, brought home two pregnant ones
for a pot of soup. At eight, I learnt this fable from
my mother’s lips, offered immediately to out-do this filial son,
though there was no ice to be found all across the city –
our temperate winters incapable of frost.
Years later, I wonder why my mother did not mention
hypothermia or the possibility of drowning, did not
invite me to wonder at the boy’s lack
of self-respect, did not consider how his body
...


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