Angelo Mao

On Ai Weiwei’s “Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn”

The man looks out at us, no different
from before. The brick wall, the floor tiles,
the urn fragments. The urn’s neck—
now half-neck still flexes and rounds
in front of where he stands with hands
that seem to bless the ground. Fragments
neither broken nor whole. The neck
half-flexes, half-rounds.

The order of words in East Asian languages
had once traveled downwards with gravity,
then headed back up, moved one to
the left. The urn at knee level in this photo
could be falling or rising or frozen.
The old word for wife, which has
a man’s hand on the right and left sides of it,
also has a woman’s head two-thirds
way from the top.

The urn perches: one hand
pushes—one finger—against
the bottom edge. The other
hand supports the neck
on its shadowed underside.
Its side is as smooth as a breast
tightened with milk. It rounds
and wholes, shies from the eye.
I look away, or back again
at the dismembering for a beginning:
the hands spread wide, a shatter
of refuse, of refusal.



Angelo Mao is a postdoctoral research scientist at the Wyss Institute in Harvard Medical School. He received a PhD in bioengineering from Harvard University in 2017. His work has appeared in Denver Quarterly, New American Writing, Colorado Review, Conjunctions and elsewhere. His first book of poems, Abattoir (2021), won the 2019 Burnside Review Press Book Award.