Poetry / June 2013 (Issue 21)

Waving a Candle in the Fog on a Hot Morning

by Craig Englund

7:30am, Shanghai, China

Through the fog, I heard the old bell
on the trash collector’s bike grind like a chain pulley

as he approached. He coughed through a facemask so foul and tallow
it looked like old newspaper.

Young students raced past us in the haze.  They dashed through the courtyard
and onto the street. Their red scarves rippled in the breeze like flags.

They splashed in the puddles of what rained down on their heads from gutters
and air conditioning units barnacled to the sides of the buildings around them.

Outside the complex, a row of cab drivers sat hunched on the curb
of the local supermarket eating breakfast.

They smirked and murmured into their Styrofoam bowls about their night’s
most amusing fares and pointed chopsticks at the bodies of the working girls

that passed, cat calling in their wake.  A lantern in a brothel across the street swung and burned in its crimson shade like a small heart in the gloom.

I saw the girls inside, sprawled and lifeless in their love seats.
Their painted faces stared at a television while, beside them, a man

fixed his tie in a mirror.  

A food cart wheeled by and the smell of its fermented tofu arrested
the air. The vendor nodded to me and pulled on, wagging a toothpick wildly

in his lips.  The drivers shouted good byes and fell back into their cabs.  
Their red taillights woke and beamed in the mist like the demonic eyes

of the mad in Goodman’s wood and all that was left was a curb littered with foam bowls. Someone in the distance, I could see, was trying to flag one down,

trying to catch the dancing green light that rested firmly in its crown
simply by being a man on the street who waves a candle in the fog like a ghost.
Website © Cha: An Asian Literary Journal 2007-2018
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