Updated: Jun 6, 2019
Hovering like an open wound in the air,
the suspension bridge hangs reticent
above a loud river that cuts through the plateau.
A never-healing wound.
Beside it, like a pebble out of an ocean of greenery,
our village stands alone.
It was hardly a place at all in the 1970s
but some rickety huts
built as a camp for men who came
for lumber, a nationwide need pressing
hard on their shoulders;
My father was one of them,
felling trees for the nation. One day,
a rhododendron tree obsessed him.
He built his house beneath it,
discarding his axe. Nonetheless
he loved going out in the wilderness,
whistling a tune
learnt from the mountain wind.
The plateau favored him most; At every full moon,
lost souls from the mountains visited him.
he was taken to the end of the morning fog
and never came back.
My mother worked in a power plant, where
she was awed by the electric mystique
and worshipped the lightning.
An Yi woman taught her to cure with herbs and words.
She saw the symptoms of loneliness
and tried to cure it with fleece flowers.
In the woods tuberculosis caught her
and the breath of demons ran through her lungs.
In 1988, my parents met on the bridge and soon
married there on,
accompanied by lumbermen whose
swarthy faces surfaced in my dreams
Then they moved to the flowers
and gave birth to me.
people came to my parents’ hut.
They had returned early from the sloped zone
of the woods above the clouds
and built a bonfire in the yard.
In the early 1990s a strange world suddenly rushed in,
mercilessly, to the noise of mining machines.
Some withdrew deeper into the protective shade
Some, like my parents, adopted a new tongue
and parted with their ghosts for good.
A concrete road was built by strangers
who tamed the river in their wake.
Still I’d sneak out in the morning
and ride the bridge like a water serpent
as it swayed in the wind and hissed.
Sometimes I leaned on the beam,
praying flags pirouetting above me,
while the river talked, sotto voce,
about men of the forrest,
A cluster of forgotten faces, elemental now,
all of them…
The bridge was growing old, slowly,
twenty years of silence.
In 1998 my parents travelled one week
to a city which would not speak to them,
or anyone smelling of damp moss.
They put me in a modern school, told me
to forget the ghosts and, secretly,
they returned to the mountain mist.
Several months later Hong Kong returned,
the nation was drowned in joyful tears.
While my mother, making a talisman
for her only son,
cried for a month.
They met only ten years after.
I grew up with the soil of lonely mountains
and a touch of madness
inside my veins; at night,
the quiet bridge cradled me to sleep, dreaming
a scratched moon from the plateau
crashing on me.
Time halted there, locked in a memory
of the past.
The new world rushed into a busy millennium.
In the old, my parents were pale, frightened,
unable to operate a phone.
The cracks between the two stretched out,
like the wound that was the bridge.
At one end were my parents
and all the mountain ghosts;
at the other, me, facing the great unknown.
I have traveled the vast lands of China,
looking for a place too late to understand
yet too precious to abandon.
The wild plateau, polished now
by a storm of footfalls,
will receive me to rest,
while I walk with a heart winging high,
on that bridge again,
where one generation of men walked before me,
*Published in the issue eight of A Shanghai Poetry Zine, 2018