Sunday, June 22, 2014

Robert Frost in China

Blurred in red and yellow
Smeared with dancing green streaks
It falls nearly into the sea
Right up against the harbor wall it stretches
Reaching out against the purple waters
Toward the Pearl tower and river barges
The street, it teems with humanity
Nations sweep together, body to body
Languages clash and mingle like friends and enemies
While old Europe stands in architectural silence
And with quiet courage, the Canadian flag salutes from the Peace Hotel
The crush of life roils like breakers through the wide avenue
Hopping, and pushing, and scraping by
With shopping bags
And Korean beef on sticks
With fake Coach purses
And counterfeit Ray Bans
The men spit
And smoke
Its acridity holds court in the street
Amidst the roar of world
On this busiest thoroughfare
There off of it, lies an alley
Dark and shadowed
Broken slats of stone, upended and uneven
It is quieter, colder, more wondering
And from its glooms she appears
Small, short, and in many ways like a child
With plastic slipper flops, worn down and filthy
She eagerly takes us by the hand and leads us
Like children, deeper into the humid recesses of the backstreet
The deep subtlety of rotten fruit and sewage saunters with us
Like pennants, laundry hangs bannered across the width of the alley
Around a corner,
In plastic chairs, families and neighbors sit
Talking and spitting and smoking
They are waiting for us
Watching for us
Their voices rise in excitement
They lead us into their shop
Small, but overflowing
With cheap gold buddhas
XL t-shirts that shrink three sizes
Scarves, swords, chopsticks, and jade bracelets
Broken Mandarin jags out of our mouths
As we haggle and barter
We are tough customers, they are tough sellers
But the silence and solitude of the empty store pulls us in to linger
To drink in the mystery of this lonely shop, passed by
By millions who tread the world’s busiest road a few yards away.
Finally we depart, with more cheap souvenirs and less Yuan.
Our Ziajian’s echo from the alleyway as we wave goodbye to the shop owners
They turn out the light in the shop
Lock the sliding door
And return to their plastic chairs
Awaiting the next straggle of wanderlusting tourists
The darkness slips away into red and yellow lanterns and neon lights, and Starbucks and Apple and Forever 21 and Nike, as we wend our way back to rejoin the throng of nations
Crushed against the flow, walking toward the East China Sea as it
Rises up in undulating waves to hug the end of the Road.

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