Poetry / April 2018 (Issue 39)

Two Poems from Of the Tea-Horse Road

by Miriam Bird Greenberg

—South from Kunming somewhere past Dayingcun

The first peaks we saw were an island
in the air, forest firred, green

with construction's veils, green netting
and scaffolding-skeined in bamboo:

whole cities made of nothing but sky-
scrapers, not a balcony laundry line

nor soup hawker carting his cauldron
of steam to be seen. If a city's

hive, in its heart, is human—never mind
swallows' mud terraces, bees' hexa-

grams of animal urbanism—then what
of cities abandoned before being? Inhabited

by nothing but birds, electricity's hum
carried there on the wires from a ghost

country of houses built and buried
in water, subaquarian towns

behind the rivers dams retain, the villages
under forgetment churning power

back to uncurtained skyscrapers
that wait like mouths for hunger's

memory: a hand on a lamp's switch
would honor light, and lit, a single window

would shine even in its inhabitants'
unremarked (no voice to notice, even,

or incant sales-songs for roasting
potatoes, fresh-made brooms) absence.

—Down the mountain to NanSha, Yunnan
Not drove-roads, nor closed — but after stonefall
turned the path so narrow only motorbikes could pass

the mountain emptied of anyone and wound
miles downward, terrace-

bound, turning through cliff-
side and cicada shriek, absent even of goats

and their drivers. In such weather—the wind
woven with rain awaiting release, air heavy for want

of water in puddles to watch
the eyelights of the sky reflected by—the road flowed

on and on, then laid down in the lowlands
alongside a true river: heat-drowsing,

dammed and dim. Specked with the long-
armed docks of fisheries like water-striders, space

stations turning in languid starscape or bent
at the elbow, their floating shanties collected dark-

ness, bunkhouses for anyone who tumbled
down the mountainside in search of certainty

and fell stuck tending to their nets of penned-in
water, praying for any living thing

pulled up: that the spirits
might guide their glistening afterlife journeys

packed in ice all the way to the other side
of the country, past eight uncounted timezones

on a clock set long before capitalism
ran its tender teeth over the perfumed clavicle

of every regional city's imagined self.
Website © Cha: An Asian Literary Journal 2007-2018
ISSN 1999-5032
All poems, stories and other contributions copyright to their respective authors unless otherwise noted.