Miao Village, Hainan Island Stephen Haven Poetry

local_library Miao Village, Hainan Island

by Stephen Haven

Published in Issue No. 109 ~ June, 2006

The women like nuns or 17th century Puritans

except for the embroidered flash

of bonnets that drew us on.

They waved green shoots of bamboo:

no photographs unless we paid.

Little girls dressed the same,

black blouses, skirts, mini almost.

Pigs locked in bamboo pens,

their piglets running free,

and turkeys gripped, it seemed,

by some deep inner shiver

(it was centigrade 40 degrees),

tensing their feathers,

their warty bills,

their whole bodies in warning.

When we had our fill, when we turned

to go, I pressed 5 quai into the hand

of the loveliest, the oldest,

a woman so bent she trailed the rest,

and scattered 10 fen bills,

2 cents American, to the youngest girls.

And suddenly they were on me,

flash of color, flash and flash,

like some starved goldfish

out of a black mass.

I tossed another handful,

this time to the wind, and sent them,

for a moment only, scattered after them.

Then word spread: dozens more

out of doors, drumming at my legs,

fingering me, a problem

beyond money. Then one woman slipped–

I remember it was the left–breast

back in, her baby in one arm,

and slapped me hard on the ass.

But my wife was Han:

She would not be driven back to our bus

like an animal to the barn.

There was some snarl left in the Chinese,

tourists too, come down from Beijing:

They were half annoyed

half amused to see

the bus driver knocking down

some baijiu with his beer

though it was a narrow road

through the mountains back to Haiko.

Or these children, in their native dress,

picking an old wound,

the Christians driven off the land

50 years ago. One last splash

of cash and I saw them

as they took flight, anywhere that faith

and funds would carry them,

how they blessed the crops

and peeled the youngest children off

like some old scab, so clean,

so easy. New wounds bleed,

their pilot banking the plane

into the wind, our bus driver honking

like mad, slipping some near collision

into the opposite lane.

We leaned into each other

each of us rocked in our seats,

giddy with laughter by then,

what we were, thought we were,

giving ourselves to the rush

of the oncoming trucks.

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Stephen Haven is Professor of English at Ashland University in Ohio, where he edits the Ashland Poetry Press, teaches American literature, and co-directs the creative writing program. His poems have appeared in Crazyhorse, American Poetry Review, and The Missouri Review, to name a few, and he is the author of a book of poems, The Long Silence of the Mohawk Carpet Smokestacks (West End Press, 2003).