I wasn’t present to see him toil: flooding the
fields, pushing each seed deep with his finger,
letting the soil grow under the nail, I didn’t
witness his death in a field of green rice shoots.
But I did see his funeral as I backpacked through:
his wife working the ground with a shovel, making
a watery grave, her earth crusted calves trembling
with fatigue as she prayed over both body and grave.
I joined her, each silent moment so heavy it could
rain, she thanked me before straining to lift the stone
onto her husband’s body to sink it among the crops.
her body fell with effort. She pleaded with her eyes,
so I lifted the stone on his chest, he held it
like a present as the soil reclaimed him, covering
him like a funeral shroud.
Dr. Ryan Thorpe teaches creative writing and literature at the University of Michigan-Shanghai Jiao Tong University Joint Institute. He is the fiction and poetry editor of The Shanghai Literary Review and manages a public workshop for anyone interested in creative writing. He writes columns for The Global Times, has published in numerous literary journals, and is currently working on a creative writing textbook. More information on his work can be found at www.rythorpe.com