Meditations in Suzhou

1. Belonging

All of China holds in its wide-expanse hands the

questions to the answers I've lived, unfulfilled.

Not foreigner, not oddity, not exactly the worst

of a culture I do not understand,

I've been given up, illegitimate, or placed carefully 

on a stranger's doorstep to deal with his doubts as my own.

2. Address

Four summers ago, I watched as my uncle 

dipped a pole deep into the oily navel of Suzhou--

a finger tracing a line that split the village in two.

We passed through it all in a small covered boat.

Our shadows licked stones, smooth from sandals

and waves swirling in the greenness of day.

Maybe I had stood on the shore instead

and watched as strangers slipped on by, their dim faces overcome

by wide straw hats. A surge in my blood sang jolted notes

when I saw a child by the riverside gesture towards the sun.

3. Family

A man and woman appeared on their doorstep

and doused a quivering dog with buckets.

The water came up in amber circles twitching with light.

Now it glistened on the steps, streaming down in

rivulets to reemerge with the river:

Nameless, shaping the curve of the town.

Further down, I watched the

bare sleek forearms of a woman washing clothes in

water that swelled up against the toes of 

bone-colored houses as rough and sturdy as caves.

4. House

My window in America is a square of glass

with curtains spotted by ochre flowers that regulate the light.

Here, windows gape in the walls but are

beaten round and smooth as sea-stones, stillness behind them

heavy like the sound of breath in sleep.

5. Home

A shadow fell across my toes. I squinted down, surprised to see 

them splashed with river-water, bright in the sun, the planks beneath them gently rocking.

Perhaps a memory is as good as experience, though memories

have never shouted back at me as insistently as Suzhou,

Its river, its dust, the shimmering of fear as I watched

the child lift his head, gesture towards the sun.

Steady on, our boat sucked its way past.

I stretched my neck to watch the horizon

fold over the town.