on the train to chengdu

a river in li jiang, yunnan province, china©papa osmubal

a river in li jiang, yunnan province, china©papa osmubal

on the train to chengdu
emily strauss

(i)
early morning a thousand miles
away fast train runs all night
through dry flat countryside
yellow fields, tall millet stalks
wave in neat fields, red brick
farmhouses maybe one light
on quiet scenes we rush past
no stops, land changes while
we sleep, at first light we are
all different, air cool and still
on the way to Sichuan.

(ii)
the water is left behind finally
all the canals, rivers, channels
garden ponds, pools, long-leaf
green tea, tall white farm houses
with upturned roofs, the bustle
of progress, industry, friends
who laugh and cry, hands that
warm, seek, comfort, air that feels
of the sea, cities too big to hold—
for the dry west, another city of tea
houses and mahjong, bicycles,
farmers at work by 6 AM in fields
lined with tall trees, distant outline
of blue mountains in morning haze
telling the rising plateau, the coming
massif of Central Asia while peasants
gather sheaves of grain, white goats
feed, lotus appears in brown mud
the land speaks its own tongue.

(iii)
round grave mounds cluster like
hillocks in grassy plots surrounded
by gold fields, each one crowned
with a large stone marker chiseled
with calligraphy, subtle art, ignored
mostly until the time comes
funeral procession walks slowly
white robed figures behind saffron
monks chanting, old women weep
young men solemn for once carry
wreaths of paper flowers on wire
stands, the fresh grave soon circled
with color in the drab field of chaff.


first appeared in Terracotta Typewriter

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