Nina Mingya Powles (Photo: Supplied)
Nina Mingya Powles (Photo: Supplied)

BooksApril 23, 2021

The Friday Poem: Maggie Cheung’s blue cheongsam, by Nina Mingya Powles

Nina Mingya Powles (Photo: Supplied)
Nina Mingya Powles (Photo: Supplied)

A poem from Nina Mingya Powles’ Ockham-shortlisted collection Magnolia 木蘭.

Maggie Cheung’s blue cheongsam

Maggie Cheung’s blue cheongsam is patterned with pink peonies. Dark magenta, dark magnolia, a colour that is edible. Nests of deep green leaves extend from the base of each fat flower, their edges painted gold. It has the same pattern as the plastic vinyl tablecloths at roadside cafes in Singapore and Malaysia, the kinds of places where my mother would have stopped off on her way home from school to sit on plastic stools and sip sweet teh tarik and eat kuih made of layers of fluorescent pink and green glutinous rice. It has the same pattern as a cloth lantern I bought from a shop in San Francisco’s Chinatown; I saw it from the street, luminous, blue. Ducking under an arch of gold paper lanterns and lucky double fish, I asked about the blue lantern and the shop-owner smiled, fetched her stepladder. Above the till, rows of white and red spheres with cut-outs in the shape of 福 cast intricate shadows on the tiled floor. In In the Mood for Love, Maggie Cheung’s blue cheongsam appears in doorways, in windows, half in shadow, never in full view. Now it hangs in my bedroom. At night I can see it from the street below, flooding the room with warm blue longing.


Magnolia 木蘭 (Seraph Press) is a finalist for the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. The winners will be announced on May 12.

The Friday Poem is edited by Chris Tse. Submissions are welcome and will be open until the end of April. Please send your poems to

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Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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