The Mothers, East and West
Bamboo moves in spring rain,
the straw floored room smells of meadows and urine—
a Chinese village interrupted by a baby’s birth. Walking sorely,
the woman carries her infant in a blanket.
It cries, and a crow caws outside, taking flight.
The baby’s tongue is a cipher at her mother’s breast.
Plumand magnolia shed petals in the courtyard,
coins and t shirts in that room, a small world of lost errors.
To be a mother is a poem and a problem—
this lady leaves her child by an orphanage door,
birth cord still clinging, her dark hair damp
where the woman kissed her goodbye: remembering salt.
Incense burning, smoke meets light at my California window.
I paint the nursery, ignoring the gunfire and rain
that warn me of heartache and absent daughters.
Everybody in a love song feels a little abandoned,
waiting ten miles from the shore. I sing with the radio,
running in place. The phone rings, but there’s no word.
And in a Chinese poem, evening bell rings,
as the hats of two pilgrims become smaller and smaller,
carrying a child over the green mountain.
Ancient China is a sea of teenagers shopping at night—
In the outdoor mall, with Gap knock offs
and Italian shoes. The baby home at the hotel,
I’m on a one-night pilgrimage, the one American
walking in a sea of Chinese faces, looking
for a thousand year temple at the edge of an outdoor mall.
Women on bikes ride past—
Long poles balanced across their shoulders
Filled with red fruits and dark balls of twine.
A vendor in the endless market plays lu jin—
tinny homemade cello with a wire bow. In its nasal lullaby,
men sell boxes of live chicks, rabbits, kittens.
Someone pushes a jade Buddha at me,
and John frowns, pushing the god away.
There are things to be found in China.
In this crowded night, neon dragons appear
in silhouette against the temple wall.
The river fills with canopied wooden boats.
A twenty foot statue guards the temple,
and a beam, carved with dragons, fills the door—
“Jump,” says John. “If you make it over once,
you will live a long life.
Otherwise, dragon bait.”
In his dark suit and tie, my fifty year old Chinese friend
Bunny hops over the ancient carving. I take a leap—
Bearing a Child an Ocean Away
Between the devil and the (deep blue)
Sea, this littlesweetness this toy in a mouth
(books about how to do this. Too much advice) &
the random tadpole of chance, with its peach tail,
& the way kindness and betrayal both smell like cake—
there were seeds to sow, and some
evenings here were mornings. There
were deadlines to meet, & a fertility doctor
said, “Make me proud,” so I sang softly (to my
it turns out empty womb, in a Target store.)
So technically our first shopping trip as mother/daughter
Occurred when you were not
there & hadn’t been born.
Time had plans for little
Shoppers. (and in erotic action
across the ocean, two mystery guests in a difficult situation
created their best accident): You,
growing in her ocean: finger, finger; bone, bone, heart;
a muscle ripe as a rainy Valentine.
You would become a baby in China. I would
bear you like an imaginary friend I couldn’t
stop thinking of, wearing out the paperback of our love.
Meanwhile, somewhere in China:
your lungs opened at first breath, & inOhio,
your Grandmother ordered a quilt with your name on it. You little water,
evening river, fluting torrent, quiet spring:
(Your first lady disappears. You were left
without the usual necessities.)
Know this: you did not enter alone.