you carried her as she carried him over the threshold. your uneven bangs trembled when your pants brushed past the threshold. a sound jumped in still air. not a drop of water from the well leaking again. the blackened kettle in the furnace became indistinguishable from pots pans scissors knives. a black lump stuck on the bottom of the furnace. fire sizzled small streams of bright red liquid that gathered and loosened along the ridges of the lump taking shape among the fiery threads, a small patch of green moss oozed by the edge of the well. you scraped with one shoe and put it in that shoe. you jumped in the other shoe and lifted the one shoe to her face. grandma looked in the shoe, held it in one hand and the other slid along the ridge of her bulging belly. left and right you smoothed her belly night after night. when the belly became more pointed at the belly button, it would be a boy. another sound jumped in still air. it would be a boy again.
over the threshold who carries the family. by the fire what keeps water.
The Spittoon Carrier
the stove was lit again. now you kept house with the sisters. grandpa was sent to dig tunnels for air strikes. you washed the white cloth hanging on the higher beam in a wooden bowl. grandma sat on the old bench by the table with her boy child. he was flapping his hands and feet on his lotus like limbs. berry bush was dead. the black furnace was not moved to the neighborhood committee office. the lump of steel sat on the top of the sealed well, its color turned ochre in rain. occasionally birds pooped in the ridges of the lump. you fetched pail after pail of warm water from the kitchen to the courtyard where you sat washing cotton diapers from rags and saved water for the berry roots. when the boy child peed or pooped, you held onto the edge of the spittoon while grandma had his hands in her hands. both of you made illegible sounds which resembled dripping water, then you ran with the spittoon to water the roots. once you splashed some urine on grandpa as he was lifting feet over the threshold that you did not see. pee from a boy child cured every disease and he lifted his soaked sleeves to his nose. you lifted sleeves to hide the flush on the face. when the neighborhood committee members came for a visit, you told them grandpa used to be the spittoon carrier when he worked at the other government in a city where his old house was burned along with the city and the cloth on the higher beam in his house.
what hangs on a white cloth. what travels through a burned house.
Copyright © 2018 by Dong Li
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission
Dong Li was born and raised in P.R. China. He has poems in Kenyon Review, Conjunctions, Cincinnati Review, and many others. His works have been translated into German, anthologized in Fischer Klassik (S. Fischer Verlag, Germany), and have appeared in manuskripte (Austria) and Neue Rundschau (Germany).
The Arkansas International seeks to publish the best literature from the United States and abroad. Launched by the University of Arkansas Program in Creative Writing & Translation, The Arkansas International is published biannually and considers previously unpublished fiction, poetry, essays, comics, and works in translation.