local_library Gold Mountain

by Stephen Haven

Published in Issue No. 131 ~ April, 2008

Then on the Hudson, the lower west side

of Manhattan, we sailed a slow sail,

the sun half an hour high,

the water glassy, then dead, and then

though we hadn’t once thought of her

suddenly she appeared

floating filthy on the water,

the lit woman, an immigrant herself,

fire of the crowd who built

effigies in her name, paraded her

at Tiananmen, and when the dying came

burned with her like papier-mâché.

I had never yearned to see that fire,

never ferried out in a crowded boat

to touch the skirt of desire itself,

but then I found myself that evening,

for pleasure only, on a small sailboat:

Except for me we were all Chinese:

Gold Mountain they still call it

though what has it meant more

than a wilderness named New York,

the sight of such a mythic beauty

rising suddenly into view,

the harbor arcing toward Ellis,

the sun half an hour high?

Then ferried over the darkened water

only to find that heaven, suddenly,

pulled up stakes and moved

on down the road,

always to the next and next

western town. Until they let it go,

came to call one world home.

So close, so far, they could still,

in their dreams, smell the sea,

but landlocked in memory

burning with the fire

of a hand rising out of winter water.

Gold Mountain. Boston. Quetzalcoatl.

Miami Beach. Venus will never rise

on a half shell in New York Harbor.

But when Liberty herself slips into view

and a woman, light years away

from her father’s grave,

leans the luxuriance of her dark hair

over your left shoulder

and crosses with you

the chained bay waters, the spun

space between two worlds, the distance

of continents buoying you up?

You take her home, a place

you once knew, and shed

your clothes, and in the ten-year drift

of an evening, grow toward the sheer promise

of silk alley, the merchants stamping

their feet to keep off the cold,

the hawked lust of a good deal,

silk and leather and down,

clouding the air.

The woman, your wife by then,

once waited there.

Outside the American Embassy

on a pre-dawn January morning

she brought you once to see:

Tail in its mouth,

the line snaked all the way around

the block. Then the light broke

on Beijing, then they were already

whispering her name: Gold Mountain

we almost heard them say

though she is made of stone.

Who would be so quick

to doubt the worth of it?

Drifting, drifting, already gone,

they waited there, as if they had

a prayer, as if the idea of it

were lasting and true

though they were ever casting off

further and further from the known world.


My first week in Beijing, no fever,

my sinuses pounding: The campus doctor

figures my addiction’s aspirin.

OK, I take a lot of them.

I ask for two. Suddenly

it’s group therapy, it’s Bastille Day

at the People’s University.

Students from the hallway

elbow in. True to our bred natures,

each of us curious,

I’m the bearded lady, the big nose;

they are the green chorus,

the canned laughter at this show.

Then my wife concurs.

It is a serious disease.

Whatever song they’re singing

it’s in unison and sways

her. She speaks for me.

Eight years away she’s come home

a Beijing girl, a woman of her word.

If only it were singular!

I have had enough when she agrees

there must be blood–mine–

two vials to measure

the effects of such a potent drug.

No problem, the doctor tells me,

he’ll take care of everything:

the needle’s sterile, if not

disposable. No worry, No worry.

I turn to walk away: OK, he says

OK, and gives me two, and a cup

of boiled water, all to the silent

leer of the crowd. Then says

he wouldn’t touch me now,

I couldn’t pay. He’d have to throw

away the needle. He’s afraid of AIDS,

the wild veins that have branched across

the sea, and for all he knows

sit before him now.

Two aspirin won’t do it now,

the water so hot I must sip.

I swallow. My wife glares.

The tablets aren’t coated and stick.

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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).