Meditations in Suzhou
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.