Somewhere in Sichuan

(Listen to the poem)



Whenever youngsterscabbages barrows
out from school
catch sight of me,
they cry,
“Hel-loh,
hel-loh.”
I smile and stop,
pick one out
with my gaze and
ask,
“Nǐ huì
shuō yīngyǔ ma?”
Can you speak
English?
It is as if, for
them, a dog
whose head you’d
scratched
had answered,
“Hey,
just cut it out, I’m concentrating
on a bone.”
Impossible that
someone with my looks
could ever imitate
however badly
the sounds of Han.
They all turn into
unhinged clockwork toys:
fall off their
bikes, stray into trees,
grab hold of
nothings in the air;
a passing girl
pushing a barrow
full of cabbages
discovers that her
head is stuck in my
direction
and cannot turn to
face the wall
in front of her
into which
on the count of
five
her load collides.
All raise their
heads from their
new states of
wreckage to watch
the green stars
rolling as they explore
the myriad
concavexities of the road,
making a living map
of gravity in Einstein’s universe.
And at the centre
of it all there stands
her bawling mother
under whose
ample skirts all
cabbages eventually
converge.

 I am a wizard—

I summon whirlwinds
with just five
words.

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(This poem is included in my book The Observation Car which is available from

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