Jianqing Zheng ~ Five Poems

Ode to Night

Coldness plas­ters
my hut
with thick snow

I quiver in bed
like a fish
caught and thrown

on the ice
to flop
in des­per­ate throes.


The Gradation of Our Being

Day by day we wait to see
seeds sprout into a fuzzy green

and grow for a good harvest.
We have nev­er felt

the land has grown us as well—
our hands calloused,

skin browned, minds furrowed,
and tongues localized.

We no longer look like a group
of urban youths

or sound like strangers
dis­tanced by the peasants,

we have plowed our bodies
and sowed us as cottonseeds.



Your absence
like a heavy hammer
strikes my thought of you

into a dagger
shin­ing cold and
hang­ing over my heart.

Each day
I for­get you when I
bend my mind

in the paddy
to cut rice
with a sharp sickle,

but each night
when the moon peeks through
the bro­ken window,

you appear
from nowhere
to slice my thought

into stripes
of pale moonlight
to ban­dage my wound.


Lines for My Helpers

Spring wind:
fecund smell
of the tilled fields
swings on the tail
of the water buffalo

Summer evening:
the cow chews cud
by the shed
as I go bathing
in the creek

Autumn dusk:
talk to the donkey
haul­ing cotton
on the rut­ty road
to the village

Winter road:
the horse and I
deliv­er provisions
to the peasants
dig­ging waterways


A Dog-eared Page

One day a new acquain­tance came over to chat over cof­fee in my apart­ment when I served as a Fulbright Scholar at his uni­ver­si­ty. He bragged about his book collection—ten thou­sand shelved books almost touched the ceil­ing of his study.

har­vest break
wind and sun­shine chasing
over wheat

Like a glib-tongued sales­man, he per­suad­ed me to buy a vol­ume of Chinese his­to­ry and cul­ture for self-study. I wowed at his booku­ca­tion, uttered, “You must be a fat book­worm. Have you bit­ten all your books?” He shook his head shy­ly. A librar­i­an for thir­ty years, he had an irre­sistible desire for books.

wait­ing for lunch
an ant crawling
in my emp­ty bowl

One evening after tak­ing my after-din­ner walk, I went to his con­do to bor­row a book about reed­u­ca­tion in the Cultural Revolution. Sitting in his tiny study where a leg stretch would knock down a pago­da of books, I opened the one I want­ed: two fat book­worms cruis­ing on a dog-eared page.

bell strik­ing
the moon over fields
fold­ed in half


Jianqing Zheng is the author of A Way of Looking and edi­tor of Conversations with Dana Gioia and Sonia Sanchez’s Poetic Spirit through Haiku, and five oth­er books. He is pro­fes­sor of English at Mississippi Valley State University, where he serves as edi­tor of Valley Voices. A reed­u­cat­ed youth in the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Zheng has lived in Mississippi since 1991.