Choo-choo, woo-wooo, chooka-chooka. In 1865,
we build the rails. Cling-clang, cling-clang.
We breathe the steam at day
we hammer nails into ties. Sizzle-sizzle.
The sun is high; our backs peel at night.
Cling-cling, clang-clang. Aiya-aiya. Our master
is a white man who plays cruel
his eyes are blue. You! You! Whupah-whupah.
His anger a lingering red. At noon
we rub ointment that smells like leaves
downriver. Cool-cool. Shhh-shhh.
A boy has a toy train like a snake. Wo-wo.
Szzz-szzz. He rubs his voice
on our clean-shaved heads:
His eyelashes so fine. His fingers embalmed
in white. You come! you go!
He plays an old man from the sky,
he counts us like sheep. One-two, three-four.
The smell of bacon on his sleeves.
Our numbers dwindle. We came from different
provinces, but die the same.
Whupah-whupah. Our master is thriving
between naps. He whips, he likes his rails.
He likes rails but not our blackened soles.
Dirty-dirty. Cling-clang. Lazy-lazy.
His shins are hairy and strong
this bacon is not for you.
He kicks us on the ribs. Our pants are shabby,
hard work is all you need.
The sun dazzles. The boy is an angel from the sky,
he likes his growing train.
Our master stomps with a whip he sweats
an era that must end. Aiya-aiya. Buddha-buddha.
The mountains are still but what do they know?
They stare at us.
Our ointment dwindles.
I want to write a letter for China.
It starts with the following words:
In 1865…then the rest is blurred,
tapering along the riverbed.