An empty bus carries me to a station, to a greeting
of boiled eggs and chicken’s feet and a black BMW
covered in red ribbons. A beleaguered uncle beckons.
We try to speak and fail, but motions suffice
in the absence of language. At a side street I transfer
to a truck, to a bright blue promise of diesel fumes.
His father gives me cigarettes, and my local friend begins
charades anew. Trails of smoke join the dust outside,
rusted cars pass, powered by their imminent collapse
As my quiet eyes blink at a village of sound, machine hums
fill the valleys with oceans of white noise. A wordless language
from the machines printing waves of words, rising and falling
against the silent mountains. This space of modest houses
cut into the hills, and farms cut into the valley
sheltered the communists. Caches and cadres
called this Xanadu for a short time, farmers put down
their scythes and picked up the presses,
pumping manifestos while cutting rations. After the mobs
with their red cascades handed out cell phones and tv’s
they forgot prosperity, and retreated to the cities,
rebuilding the country from the top down, from the outside in.
Hollowed words discarded, red books forgotten, machines
re-tooled, black ink gave way to white silk. The sounds
of the village now, though similar, produce cloth
to be stained with memory, with feasts and fits.
To this music of perpetual motion the lanes pass, underfoot
as we stride toward the wedding. Shopkeepers sleep
and dogs bark. A group of monks, draped in the faded orange
of dirty cats, rush the gates of a monastery, beaming
and gaping through the fence. I travel in moments
of quiet celebrity, tinged with the bittersweet regret,
of being born lucky. Over the wedding-street flowers arch
with paper ingots on the power lines. The pavement
lined with rocket boxes, explodes without color.
Fifty feet up fireworks boom in camera flashes and percussion
like two stage rockets of cardboard and orange sulfur.
As the smoke bleeds higher a resigned panic urges
the old wedding hands inches from the launch tubes
to light the fuses of dormant squares between volleys.
Motorcyclists pass without a glance, puffing on cigarettes
when between smoke and sound a shard of white appears
with a smudge of black. The procession of bride and groom
to cannon fire and laughter like a skirmish with mad opium pirates
The town converges on the banquet like rivulets down drain pipes
And at dinner the textile traders opt instead for thin plastic,
where they spit fish bones, and dog bones, and turtle shells
The groom reaches our table with a stagger, and drinks
vicariously through his best man. Do you want to dance?
My local friend asks. When you’ve given up control
all questions become rhetorical. Between a textile factory
and overgrowth, the female party guests prepare to dance.
There is no stretching, no hiking of skirts, merely lines,
human constellations orbiting a monstrous CD player.
Traditional Chinese instruments waft into the parking lot,
the crowd reacts like an immune system, slashing the sound
with their arms. A nasal voice erupts from the speakers
the women move in unison to a childhood choreography.
My friend and I try to follow along, but this was not our dance,
trapped in a Chinese opera, I can’t break the fourth wall.
Exiting the stage we sit among the weeds and debris
Leaning back, the stars feel closer in the countryside.
My friend and I watch the old world gasp for breath,
his life a crucible into which the west is poured, and mine
a ball of snow rolling slowly down the Chinese landscape
collecting the detritus of a nation’s identity crisis. We hold
each other’s answers in labyrinths of language neither understand
and we don’t speak, fearing we’d tumble
into the space between words.