Poetry / March 2016 (Issue 31)


by Kerong Chen

We search for pebbles on the riverbank
while a boat floats beside thick foaming bubbles,
Avatars of the drowned,
Grandma once said,
to them fishers pray, so ghosts
will drive fish toward them
Don't taste the fish, She would say,
they devour the ghosts and become poisonous.

Behind the mist, the fisherman stands
on his skiff like a dried tree trunk.
The boat for him is as solid
as the land we stand on.
Thin, he appears motionless
when the wind blows, as if
his roots grow deep. Even if nobody
tastes his fish anymore, he waits
for fish to come.

They won't come. Grandpa says.
We keep walking. Why?
When a huge yellow crane,
unloading concrete beams
upon broken-neck reeds,
cuts the road, we stop
by a cement mixer dripping
thick viscous gray lava
into the river. I see
it join the foaming bubbles,
flowing to the boat.

Across the river, a burst
of black smoke breaks
from a chimney stalk
like a volcano; the fumes
thicken the mist of early
morning. I see no sun,
but a blur of a boat
drifts further and further.
The bubbles still chase
and haunt. They are not ghosts
of people,
Grandpa continues,
but of fish, poisoned to death.
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