The Bridge

Hovering like an open wound in the air,

the suspension bridge hangs reticent

above a loud river that cuts through the plateau.

A never-healing wound.

Beside it, like a pebble out of an ocean of greenery,

our village stands alone.

 

It was hardly a place at all in the 1970s

but some rickety huts 

built as a camp for men who came

for lumber, a nationwide need pressing

hard on their shoulders; 

My father was one of them, 

felling trees for the nation. One day,

a rhododendron tree obsessed him.

He built his house beneath it, 

discarding his axe. Nonetheless 

he loved going out in the wilderness, 

whistling a tune

learnt from the mountain wind.

The plateau favored him most; At every full moon,

lost souls from the mountains visited him.

Years later,

he was taken to the end of the morning fog

and never came back.

My mother worked in a power plant, where

she was awed by the electric mystique 

and worshipped the lightning.

An Yi woman taught her to cure with herbs and words.

She saw the symptoms of loneliness

and tried to cure it with fleece flowers.

In the woods tuberculosis caught her

and the breath of demons ran through her lungs.

 

In 1988, my parents met on the bridge and soon

married there on,

accompanied by lumbermen whose 

swarthy faces surfaced in my dreams

like bodhisattvas.

Then they moved to the flowers 

and gave birth to me.

That day, 

people came to my parents’ hut.

They had returned early from the sloped zone

of the woods above the clouds

and built a bonfire in the yard.

 

In the early 1990s a strange world suddenly rushed in, 

mercilessly, to the noise of mining machines.

Some withdrew deeper into the protective shade

of woods,

Some, like my parents, adopted a new tongue

and parted with their ghosts for good.

A concrete road was built by strangers 

who tamed the river in their wake.

Still I’d sneak out in the morning

and ride the bridge like a water serpent 

as it swayed in the wind and hissed.

Sometimes I leaned on the beam,

praying flags pirouetting above me, 

while the river talked, sotto voce, 

about men of the forrest, 

A cluster of forgotten faces, elemental now,

all of them…

The bridge was growing old, slowly, 

twenty years of silence.

 

In 1998 my parents travelled one week 

to a city which would not speak to them, 

or anyone smelling of damp moss.

They put me in a modern school, told me

to forget the ghosts and, secretly,

they returned to the mountain mist.

Several months later Hong Kong returned,

the nation was drowned in joyful tears.

While my mother, making a talisman

for her only son,

cried for a month.

They met only ten years after.

I grew up with the soil of lonely mountains 

and a touch of madness 

inside my veins; at night,

the quiet bridge cradled me to sleep, dreaming

a scratched moon from the plateau 

crashing on me.

 

Time halted there, locked in a memory 

of the past.

The new world rushed into a busy millennium. 

In the old, my parents were pale, frightened, 

unable to operate a phone.

The cracks between the two stretched out,

like the wound that was the bridge.

At one end were my parents 

and all the mountain ghosts;

at the other, me, facing the great unknown.

 

I have traveled the vast lands of China,  

looking for a place too late to understand 

yet too precious to abandon.

The wild plateau, polished now 

by a storm of footfalls, 

will receive me to rest,

while I walk with a heart winging high,

on that bridge again,  

where one generation of men walked before me,

towards home…

One thought on “The Bridge

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