Monday, November 7, 2016

301 km/h

While stilled scenes flee before they’re seen, sways strung
ever eastward fling sudden jolts from right
to
left.  Wheels spun to max grind iron rails,
whose shrieks the peaking charge
suppresses.  Splayed
for bids to move about,
folks reach for what
was stowed, do belly flops
on luggage dropped
when westward bullets hurtle past.  I clutch
an
overhead rack, strive to stay upright.
Conductors scowl, check my ticket, advise

I seek an unclaimed seat since I insist
they not remove a mother with her child
from mine.  I struggle to a vestibule,
press beside a window, from which I mark
walls outside are frenzied in haste to hide
exploited lands before they’re within sight.

White Cloud of Zhengzhou

     The plane descends through thick white smoke that reaches to
     the ground, where jets push through the cloud to pause at gates,
     beyond which guides hold signs with names.  Outside the browned
     glass walls of terminals, exhaust of cabs congeals
     in soup that limits visibility to yards. 
     On the turnpike to the city, commuters vie
     with tractors, plow past fields where sheep engulfed munch grass
     of greyish green.  The town lies hidden from the sky,
     seems post-apocalyptic, victim of some gas
     attack.  Street sweepers wade from islands, breathe through masks    
     while cars dive in and out of view.  The panes of my
     hotel room show no sights except an alley lined
     with motorbikes in front of tiny stores, from which
     I buy some local beers before a rep arrives   
     to take me to an interview.  At suppertime
     the plates of mutton served taste great.  The folks talk straight,
     I mark, without pretense or arrogance, so I’m
     attracted to the job, but later as I watch
     TV, I smell the staleness of the room, observe
     the stains in the upholstery.  My nostrils itch;
     my throat is sore.  Though cells relax, I think about
     my wife and child, with hope for better circumstance.     

Luoyang Afternoon

Bootlegged internet movies bore me
and forearm sweat pools on my desk. 
While I stagnate six flights up,
girls below the dorm opposite,
past an iron fence that isolates
the apartments, wave and text to boys
who freshen sweaty clothes on balconies.
To the west, etched between buildings,
plots of trees, and fields where dust
rises from hoes, a canal fills
manmade ponds and flows under
a wall I’ve yet to find a break in,
beneath College Road, and onto our
concrete campus.  A goddess walks in
adorned with a towel, which drops away
as she rewinds the blind I just tugged shut. 
Lady slipper scents lead to Venus hair.
Oval reflections retreat from the screen;
she dresses for shopping at Splendid Mall. 

My girls’ cruiser squeaks as I pedal
past the residence guards, who smile,
unlike the uniforms at the west gate
that keep its remote-controlled barrier
open only wide enough
for single-file passage, though
the entrance is broad as the Yi .       

Outside the campus walls I jump
a curb and roll my wheels over
broken bricks.  A man retrieves
four semi-cold bottles
from the bottom of a whining cooler under
a tarp; his wife loads my pack
as he counts my ten Yuan: “Zai jian.”

The one hundred-plus degree swelter
reeks of turds groaned out amid
shrubs between walls and the road.    
Perched on curbs and carts, sweepers
in face masks drink tea. 
On the third street that borders the green
park I meet a university and sentries
that watch students wait for buses. 

When the gate opens for a service van
I enter and ride an empty boulevard
east to find shady trails,
which invite me to drink local beer
while magpies wink and leaves whoosh
lightly in a steamy breeze cooled
slightly by the shadows and murky water
nearby, where herons and men fish
and young boys skinny dip;
their shouts and splashes ring the brush,
from which enraptured couples emerge and blush.
A construction crane swings prefabricated
cement slabs into place
and stops to cloud foliage and point
toward home.  I ride to the pond,
where the kids bid me to strip and jump in,
but I just photograph the scene, with bridges and walkways,
marred by floating brown goo,
garbage, and belly up minnows.
Ladies chat under bushes
and husbands rest by poles and umbrellas.
A man called Dean Xi
shows me his gear and his catch: “Enjoy
this now. The university is set to expand,
take the wild from the land.” 

A rabbit runs across my path
in a patch of evergreens slated for replacement.
Along a trail through tall weeds
I flush a pheasant hen and her young.
Stooped over furrows, farmers don’t notice.

The accordion gate shut, I wait
for students to clear and then I steer through
the narrow aisle beside the security
house, maneuver between taxis,
and spin down Kai Yuan Street. 

Back at my school, crowded vendors’
carts spew barbecue grease
and fumes.  Along the dorms, I look up.
Her face, lit in our bay window,
follows me as I skirt the wrought metal. 

Harbin Arrival


     The beaten Jetta’s driver crosses the median, dodges head-on 3am traffic; the college greeter says it’s faster when I ask why.  While we show IDs and my passport at a gate, beggars advance; cabbie hustles clunker through, slows past barred windows of cloned concrete buildings coated with coal ash.  Garage-like overhead doors of shops on ground floors reflect one high beam’s dimness.  My guide gets out at a dead end and reaches through a grate to bang a pane, which lights.  A lady in a bathrobe creaks open the entrance, then leads us up and through a maze of stairs and halls to the fourth floor, where I inter my two obese suitcases in a two-room apartment, once the home of sixteen students.  Twenty hours after I stepped into Logan, I’m left alone in a dormitory. 
     When I wake I check my cell, unpack.  A glass-doored metal cabinet that locks accepts my treasures: Longfellow’s Complete Poems, my bound thesis, honors pins and ribbons, two grammar books, and lots of Damart: I read on Wiki that Manchuria’s crazy cold in winter.
     The shower’s funky—two knobs regulate flow and heat until that fades to frigid.  The TV blizzards, but everything’s clean except the slightly oily micro-kitchenette, supplied with a heat plate, bent silverware, and a small clothes washer.  Empty, the fridge is in the living room.  From the window I view the campus and students, few, chatting, texting, standing or sitting on curbs outside. 
     The door guard lady smiles, dials a phone as I leave to find a cyber café.  Engulfed in smoke from bleary gamers, I transmit I’ve safely arrived, and then I walk toward the city.  Hurried, taxis pass three-wheeled delivery trucks, buses, and pedaled wagons.  Mobs crowd bus stops, a KFC, and food vendors’ carts near another university.  Smog chokes the summer humidity.        
     On the sixth, the English, floor of a bookstore, I search the expansive shelves until I find the Ancient Chinese poetry section, filled with parallel text volumes, where I read, oblivious.  Three hours later I walk out relieved of twenty Yuan (about two and a half bucks), but endowed with 300 Tang Poems: Chosen by Theme—all its pages are complemented with lush Chinese artwork.  My new favorite verse is Li Bai’s “Invitation to Wine.”          
     Back on the bare trees and clothes-lined sidewalk, I choose a shop; inside I inspect labels, contemplate a 440 ml jug of clear, 48% alc./vol. liquor.  The owner taps adding machine keys.  “Bai jiu—wine. Bai Da Can bai jiu. Si (four) Yuan—cheap,” he says, then grabs a couple of more expensive (fifteen Yuan), boxed bottles and follows me to brews in crates:  “Pi jiu—beer. Er (two) Yuan. Harbin pi jiu—Ha’ Pi.” 
     At the tiny cashier’s counter the man offers me a cigarette from his pack—“Baisha”—lights it, then opens a porcelain vessel of bai jiu.  A pungent polish, but sweet, bouquet entices.  From a glass, milky pear drop flames immerse my tongue.  My new acquaintance tops two cups with beer: “Ha’ Pi.” Yeah, I’m happy.        

When Sheena Delivers

When Sheena cycles mail to offices
uptown, she spins past gridlock, glides between
commuters, flush beside delivery trucks,
whose drivers spit tobacco—knobby treads
graze tar, sling swill.  She leaps to curbs and weaves
through crowds on sidewalks.  Mobs in lobbies drop
their jaws as girl page hurdles turnstiles, jets
up flights to suites where clerks in cubicles
prepare reports and managers behind
glass walls gulp gin.  While perspiration drips
from Sheena’s Lycra trim, assistants prim
in skirt suits tweak their beaks and sign receipts;    
she winks, and streaks to boulevards, where drones
in cages rap their horns and clutch in vain. 

At Cable Beach

Beneath a rippled steel roof,
at a pine picnic table painted
grey, I drink mescal from Cancun,
watch land crabs dash
over dirt that burns.  To swim
through lazy remains of crystal
waves, I skirt a mob of sailors
who chuck rocks at an iguana, hissing
on a ledge above the beach.  Past
the shore, but before the open sea,
a battlement of immense boulders dropped
in place between the cliffs to keep out
sharks provides a space to soak in
salt and sunset, brave majestic
surges raised with columns of bronze.

Schoodic Lake Sunrise

At late fall’s dawn I’m set up on a boulder on
the bank, before camp’s picture window.  Purple and
vermillion stretch above the eastern skyline, tips
of trees obscured by mist that sets upon the lake. 
Stubborn undulations meet rocks, spray ice.  One loon’s
wail haunts as orange glows sneak upward.  Contrasted
on grey waves they coat, evergreens contend with browns.
Then the sun climbs up, pours its bronze and gold onto
the surface, where a beam of ivory reaches out 
to me, beneath a hardwood’s bare possessive limbs.   
While shutter clicks record the scene, breakfast scents creep
through brush and rise with cinders left by last night's blaze.

Outrun

Side-by-side at eighty-
five, propelled by four
pistons in a row and two
in a V, our bikes shoot
along a country two-
laner’s curves. 
                          Brothers,
we crest a hill and snap
the throttles open as, from a slope
ahead, blues blaze,
dash toward us and a park
in the gulley between, where we flap 
denim flags at the floundering
patrol plowing dirt
to turn and pursue. 
                                With our flight
speeds past one-
fifteen, we scorch the grade
and swoop away through sweepers,
fling sparks from foot
pegs.  On straightaways trees
look like sticks.  The engines
howl a redline duet,
and escape impends, 
                                   but the black
and white threat—tilted,
tossed, and bounced about
by its bulk—probes the mirrors,
so we brake, slide, power
onto an artery.  The traffic
we blitz blocks the caged
eight. 
           At a roundabout we cleave
chaos through gridlock.                                         
                                        Then we race 
to the woods, where we slow to a crawl,
choose a closer course
among the roots that flow
to a stand of pines. 
                                As the sirens
rush beyond, chrome
exhaust pipes and polished
cooling fins crackle,
glaze ferns with sunlight.