Thursday, October 25, 2007


China Map
by J. Allyn Rosser

I was worn out, lost, and sixteen
in China at 6 p.m., everyone
suddenly in a purchasing frenzy,
when he stopped me with a smile
that just turned me upside down:
gold caps on one side, gaps on the other.
I could tell he was more human
than most people, or more kind.
He was old the way everyone is old
when you're sixteen: maybe fifty, or seventy.
I had passed through the village of pork,
the village of shoes, the village of cotton shirts
and linen. Each few blocks the commodity
changed, the sounds and smells trans-laundered
the air you walked in. He held out to me
a section of the oddly shaped fruit
with a rough, nubbly green rind,
smooth amber glistening inside,
a taste divine, beyond my tongue.
He was a busy man with buyers,
we were smack at the core of the village
of fruit. All of his globes were selling.
I was a ready target, fanning out
the colored bills, raising my brows.
He looked at my hotel's card,
looked into both of my eyes, as if to say
it was going to get dark fast,
and sat us down on two crates side by side,
and stopped his hawking then to draw,
in deft, meticulous detail, a map
to get me back: the splashing fountain
with the fish inside the osprey's mouth,
the statue of the sword-bearing giant,
the dog-legging street that led
to a cat's-paw alley just before the really
sharp turn. When he drew an intersection,
the stoplight had all three circles
with diagonal hyphens radiating out—
and that fountain! He spent a lot of time
making it sparkle on the paper bag
under his knife-sharpened, spit-greased pencil.
I remember his ropy hand veins working.
I remember this fruit I carried back
to my hotel and up the stairs, glowing and round
like the truth. Like the globe of the truth
of everything in the whole wide world.
I didn't know how to go about eating it
when I got back to my room:
no knife, no dish, no napkin.
I sat and watched it ripen in the dusk,
breathing its aroma, which seemed
the antidote to every wrong thing.
In the morning I can't believe I just
left it behind. That fruit.
Also, doubtless, the map.

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