Poetry / September 2012 (Issue 18)

Shanghai Pensées (Night thoughts)

by David Raphael Israel

When in San Francisco, I perhaps thought I was in Shanghai.
Now that I'm in Shanghai, I don't know where I think I am.

Walking through some American cities, you find yourself in
Chinatown for a time.  But you soon reach its perimeter.
Here, Chinatown's end is nowhere in evidence.

These are night thoughts scrawled in pages of a book I bought in Thailand.
Perhaps they will be read by somebody in another country.

I asked the taxi-driver to take me to the neighborhood called
Xin Tian Di [new heaven & earth].  I wanted to walk around a while.
What I discovered was a very busy, late-night edition of Starbucks.

You could call this Four Observations.
But too late for that.

On Zhaozhou Road, there's a certain amount of junk in the street.
I haven't seen this kind of thing since India.

Hao bu hao, ah? asks the 4-year-old addressing,
one guesses, his elder brother.  [Is that okay, eh?]
They're investigating a water faucet.
Wai guo, la? the older lad now asks. [Yo, foreign country?]
Mei Guo I answer. [America.]

I read to them my composition no.7.  The older boy smiles and runs down the sidewalk.
The elders are meanwhile dealing with chickens.

It's around midnight in Xin Tian Di.
People here are eating their dinners at little card-tables on the sidewalk.

The older boy runs back with a still-smaller boy in his arms.
The mother soon comes along.

A man with a hefty armful of yellow fry-bread opens an iron gate and disappears.

Belatedly, I notice a red-white-&-blue barbershop pole.
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