Poetry / June 2015 (Issue 28)

Meeting the Christians in Gejiu

by Mike Frick

The first day, I bought a pig at market
and walked it to Ya Jun's home trailing me
on a leash. I walked it right to the soft
center of the yard—kitchen before us,
two bedrooms flanked by a fudao spun
from cornhusks hanging on the outer wall,
a moon gate in the corner, its low arch
letting the luck in. The brothers fought with
Ya Jun standing between them, and still the
day's late light colored everything yellow.

Arriving at Ya Jun's natal village we walk
through canyons of yellow mud, the outer walls of
courtyard homes framed with wooden beams so dry I see
fossils in the grain. We eat outside, squatting on
three-legged stools around a low table, above us
swallow nests sit in the eaves, a plaque above the
door honors the military service of an
eldest son. The Mao era clothes worn by the old
men, issued pewter gray, smell of petrichor.
We eat a meal of pig fat and bitter greens
while joking about dialects. The men eat first,
cupping aged yellow rice bowls chipped clean as the bones
left for the dogs, asleep now, on the cold stone floor.

"Grandmother, can you hear me?" Ya Jun shouts as red
juice from a 5 mao cherry popsicle drips down
my chin, staining the dirt.

"Grandmother, can you hear me?" Ya Jun shouts as I
sit mute with grandmother, our colored teeth stuck to
cold ice, now pink as tongues.

"Grandmother, repeat after me: 'God, I love you!'
Grandmother, say what I say: 'Jesus, I love you!'"
This time Ya Jun exhorts

and seeing her pray in earnest, I turn inward.
"Grandmother, can you hear?" Ya Jun asks. Grandmother
nods yes. Sitting on a low stool, I throw up red.

The sign read 'paragliding capital
of the world,' and behind it stood the new
'old temple,' its Buddha still without paint,
but powdered in carpentry ash. We hiked
on experienced lungs right to the top,
where Ya Jun broke from the path to follow
the slope of the paragliding pitch
to its low point high above the city,
sitting deep in the haze thrown off by nearby
tin mines, the engines of this reborn place.
There, Ya Jun began a devotional
to her god—new to these rich hills—standing
before the old without even eyes drawn
to see the spectacle: prayers gliding on
lifts of air, men wearing clear plastic wings,
from this height their fall to town looked slow.  
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