In Guilin

by Mireya Perez

Where the crystal clear Li River
with limestone peaks border
Phoenix bamboo like furry green fingers
rising on the edges in where goats, oxen, ducks
beyond them gather blades, squares of rice paddies
lead to crossroads where farmers sit on plastic
crates playing cards
while old women carry infants on bent-over backs

No young people in sight
all gone to cities far, far away

We turn into the small road
to visit a farmer woman
in her concrete house with doorway
framed by large red New Year’s Day
good luck couplets

She welcomes us into her living room
offering us peanuts she grows
behind her an altar to her ancestors
“Here she lives alone,” our guide explains
we are urged to enter the room
behind the ancestors’ altar
the room for her future life.
Perplexed, we go into the dark, mostly
empty room ‘til our eyes adjust
to see a large gleaming wood
credenza, or is it a chest?
No, no, not a chest,
it looks like a finely carved boat
with pagoda-like uplifts on either end,
no, not a chest
then we realize
future life
this is the room for her future life.

Mireya’s poems leap from English to Spanish and back again, invoking an array of spirits. Her poetry appears in Caribbean Review, Revista del Hada, NYU Poetry Review, and in Anthology of Colombian Women Poets, among other places.