Maggie Wang

National Cathedral School

Grade:

11

Twenty-Four Hours in Henan Province

awoken, where I am

six hours, the highways different because

I am halfway around the world, bricks

simultaneously red and grey, let me sleep

no, come in—they are all waiting

I have never been here, clouds grey overhead too

come in, yes, I am too foreign, only the eyes are the same

but even they are different. where are we, they ask

 

we squat over ditches in the ground

humanized only by grey tiles laid around them

covered in pools of liquid—is it water or something else

I ask. yet I go anyway, because there is nowhere else

cousins cleaned it, mother tells, but still uncertain

glad I don’t have such chores, or wishing

I were less privileged, unsure, in a new place still

only a few minutes ago

 

we sit

around a low table, adults and children alike

because there is no more room but we are all

here, the tofu with vegetables, steam

rising from the only warmth that can be afforded

the chairs in front of thick plastic curtains, dyed yellow

by the monotonous and monumental passing

of years—there is never room for new

 

at night, only one bed

per family, I doze off

not knowing where I am, but in this room

mother sat, decades ago, spilling ink into the wee

hours of the morning, one new shirt every year

the sleeve, pure orange of sunrise, dyed black in fury

pain of loss, for there will only be one, still resonates

in the air, from the high window—but they have light bulbs now

and a whirling fan that I want to be afraid of

but can’t because it feels wrong

to fear

 

they give me water to drink, tell me

my dialect is too mandarin. I listen to

their provincial accents, embarrassed

that I am different, yet I know

that to them I am still child, beloved, allow me

everything, more than I deserve

before farewells, take this with you

you’ll never find it in Beijing—no, you are

too generous, wish you best of luck

I will be back in years, but no one fills in the number because

some wiser than me know I am still foreign

even in love

 

space passes, time passes, then

through wires strung beneath the sea

and reflections into space, hear their voices again

chickens, a garden, fields of untranslatable crop names

unsold harvests, grains stacked on the

roof, waiting, but the uncles know

it will never be sold

another year, no money, no hope. do you need money

we ask, but we do not know if they are

afraid to say yes, or afraid to say no

and all is gone anyway—where?

the children went to the city, and now

only a single red lantern

left