by Matthew James Friday
1. April 6
The yellowing bones of
a two hundred million year old
seabed thrust up into countless
shafting karst mounds by India’s
ancient desire for Asia;
blackened by forgetful time,
given sub-tropical green dignity,
massaged by water and wind
sighing down seashell-shaped rock
to coral reef hearts,
until us admirers are just fossils
of a faintly painted past.
II – April 7
I fall with the rain:
with the dripping columns coming
off the rooftop restaurant awnings,
pooling on the floor, soaking
the chairs. With the almost invisible
ghostly splattering into the fish farm ponds,
around atolls and islands of algae.
With the mountain mist, that traditional
beauty in Chinese paintings. With the flooding
gush of rain water funnelling into the open
atrium of the hotel, creating an artificial
ocean on the ground floor. With the
countless drumming of drippy fingers.
With the long arm of the Yulong river
sucking in grey-green depth, scuttling
away only the most insistent tourists
on their bamboo boats, punting down
to Dragon Bridge, full of traffic, beeping
coach-load of tourists coming for the festival,
praying the rain lifts for the fireworks.
III – April 8
Awake! Awake! Awake!
The excited machine gunning
firecrackers shakes the mountainside
graves, rattling out the dozing darkness,
scaring the fingering evil spirits
off all old bones and memories
bundled up inside stone cairns,
swaddled in the side of the ancient sea
bed. A guff of gunpowder smoke
loiters for a while, taking shape,
a face of someone watching, perhaps,
then drifts into the moist mist
taking the noise, the spirits
for another year, until the next
Tomb Sweeping holiday.
IV – April 9
Walking past a wall
of grandparents and their toddlers
watching a digger dredge a ditch
outside a new hotel, taking years
to build. I wave and say “nihao,” to a little
girl and her mum. Both wave back
so happily, earnestly; the girl keeps
waving and waving as if waving
can dig out all differences between us,
and waving is more urgent
than anything else in her world:
the put-putting of motorbikes ferrying
locals to work in Yangshuo,
cockerels crowing all day long,
the distant grinding of other hotels
being lazily built while old farm huts
rot quickly back into the earth.
V – April 10
and she panics away.
Sit still. So.
Be a karst hill,
for her panting wings
to slow, slow.
This is a special trust
or she mistakes your
leg for a flower.
you are blessed
by this silken
gift. Her probing
you a thousand
thanks. She is so
delicate, a single
word could snap
shut the orange bands
on her velvet brown
her flying back
into the breath
of the wind,
the chirruping drama
of bulbul birds,
the restaurant waitress,
head in hands, eyes
glued to the smartphone
screen, screaming soap
VI – April 11
The evening deadens all the spring greens
and makes prehistoric mountains march,
bowed over, greying them into the evening.
The Yolung River tugs up her foggy night
dress. Time for the tourists on bamboo boats,
heads down in smartphones, to be punted home.
Still the swallows playing parabolas over the fish
ponds where three men wade in, netting
baby fish, silvery flashes of bodies bolting for
freedom. The frogs begin singing. As long as
there is water, the frogs sing. Their ancestors
have sang here for millions of years.
Stare long enough and you’ll see the trees
nodding to chords in the air, misty clouds
sinking in and smothering us all.
Editor’s Note on 6 Days in Yangshuo:
6 Days in Yangshuo is not Matthew James Friday’s first work to appear in Eastlit. His previous published pieces are: