The Gift Horse
—for Isabel Augustine-Adams
The Korean boys take turns
bringing her gifts she can’t accept,
she’s a light-haired meiguoren,
struggling with Chinese the same
as these foreigners whose parents
all work for Samsung.
When she goes to study
in an unused classroom
they knock on the door before
entering. She turns away wrapped
sweet plum candies, a jar
of kimchi, a Bible, a hairbrush.
I’m only thirteen she protests.
Eventually shows them her I.D.
Afterward, they’re nothing
but polite, but she misses
the ardor of their missionary
zeal, the way the leader knelt
when he presented
a rice cake
embossed with a single almond.
Negotiating the Town of Xizhou
In the tight turn of a cobblestoned street
a BMW crawls past a Rolls.
The drainage ditch that once flushed human waste
a four foot drop that yawns beneath steel wheels.
On the other side slants a low stone wall
of an indigo dye shop. Side mirrors
tucked in so the drivers’ see an oval
of themselves. Have to trust the waving hands
of bystanders to guide them through the pass.
Steering wheels are whisper-turned, loud shouts rake
as metal reflects the other’s passage.
The shined door handles kiss, leaving a scrape
in the other’s silver sheen. When they break
free, the stalled crowd erupts, heads back to work.
The rumor that the Austrian energy drink is made from bull testicles is false.
—Red Bull website
In the hard blue morning light
my ancient guide proudly displays
two Red Bulls for our day-long hike.
I shoulder my pack and follow him up
the dry riverbed to a field where a yak shaggily tears
tufts of grass, grinds them as we slip past.
My guide doesn’t speak English, and I
only yi diân Chinese, so over Haba mountain
we’re reduced to thin gestures, the hard nuts of nouns.
I pull down Spanish Moss and ask for the Chinese name.
He brightens and plucks it for me, repeats it slower when I flail.
We stack our separate sounds over the same item.
His is a sonorous Sanishsloss. He smiles through his remaining teeth
when I nod yes. I drape it from the back of my baseball cap: Hair.
He laughs, pulls at my rasta dreads. Tries: Air.
He shows me berries, not yet ripe.
Another motion says: Must be ground down,
made pancake-flat. His weathered face crinkles with the effort.
He traces where we’re headed on the icy slope,
two fingers clamped around his cigarette.
From his mouth a drift of smoke whips up-trail.
David Allen Sullivan’s books include: Strong-Armed Angels, Every Seed of the Pomegranate, a book of co-translation with Abbas Kadhim from the Arabic of Iraqi Adnan Al-Sayegh, Bombs Have Not Breakfasted Yet, and Black Ice. He won the Mary Ballard Chapbook poetry prize for Take Wing, and his book of poems about the year he spent as a Fulbright lecturer in China, Seed Shell Ash, is forthcoming from Salmon Press. He teaches at Cabrillo College, where he edits the Porter Gulch Review with his students, and lives in Santa Cruz with his family. His poetry website is: https://dasulliv1.wixsite.com/website-1, a modern Chinese co-translation project is at: https://dasulliv1.wixsite.com/website-trans, and a call for poetry about the paintings of Bosch and Bruegel for an anthology he's editing with his art historian mother is at: https://dasulliv1.wixsite.com/website.