Long-haired Zhuang women are singing,
clapping, stomping feet to the drumbeat
in the wooden village house, bells
of their silver headdresses, chiming.
Stopping, they raise hands in unison,
driving it up, past the corn-draped rafters,
up, into the hoary skies, their spells
cast far, to the fickle ears of harvest gods.
Their men don’t interfere, but watch
and smoke, as brown as the rice terraces
ribboning the hills, weathered,
as the dormant fields of dragonfruit.
The drum sounds again; again the women
pound the boards, their wool-wrapped legs
jumping, voices ringing over all of Guangxi,
as they conjure the planting season into being.
Aromatic tea fields sparkle in neat rows.
Women in straw hats bend in a ballet, spry
as the bushes they scratch around, the happy
animals of their bodies, moving in sunshine.
Beans twist up bamboo stakes, the pinch
of manure and soil baking in the nostrils,
play of tomatoes, herbs, and birdsong,
names of every plant on the tongue.
Tractors rumble by, and whistling men
with shovels, who stop to urinate
in the woods. Often, a violent burst
of afternoon clouds, rain tamping dust.
They laugh and yell at one another during tea breaks.
They work long and hard. They work long
and hard. Their young have left for the cities,
forgetting the songs, the land, but sending money.
Before leaving for the upper pastures,
the women are tossing flour to the wind,
toasting skies with strong barley beer,
chanting prayers, singing for the crops.
Men are readying the mills, fixing carts,
slapping backs, and singing their own
kinds of songs. The mules stamp
and snort, game for their bundles.
Husbands and wives bicker, shoot
glances and mutter curses, their hands
raw with work, a cruel sun pushing them
to move fast. All day, the loads roll in.
Tomorrow, the next day, and the next;
these shining meadows of sunrise,
awaiting the songs, the caress of hands
in the soil, with all the loyalty of a lover.
© Lauren Tivey, 2016.
*This poem originally appeared in the July, 2012 issue of Hobble Creek Review.