Minnesota Poetry: Wang Ping’s “First Step”

Wang Ping was born in Shanghai and grew up on a small island in the China Sea. After three years of field work on a rural commune, she attended Beijing University. In 1985, she left the People’s Republic of China to study in the United States, and earned her Ph.D. from New York University. She’s the author of numerous collections of short stories and poetry, including “Of Flesh & Spirit” and “The Magic Whip.” She teaches at Macalester College.

First Step

Like swans lifting from the river in frozen mist,

like the first ice splitting the shore of Lake Superior,

you took a step, then another.

A laughing Ariel!

Your smile is not a mask but a shrieking delight–

a horizon expanding

between your wobbling feet.

The meadow is full of traps–

long-stemmed flowers, spiky grass,

lumps of soil, rocks.

A gust of wind blew your cap,

sent it rolling toward the sea.

Hands open,

a crowd of angels cradled in your bosom,

you stumble

into the arms of air, wind, sun, earth …

without looking back.

— “First Step” by Wang Ping, as it appeared in The Magic Whip. Reprinted with permission from Coffee House Press.