On the Railways: A Little Song


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:

                            Ai’yah-ai’yah? Wo-wo.

His eyelashes so fine. His fingers embalmed
                in white. You come! you go!
                             Yes-yes. Haode-haode.

                             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.
                           Chinka-chinka. Chonga-chonga.

                           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.
                               Faster-faster! Wo-wo.

                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.
                 Buddha-buddha. Bodhisattva.
                                I want to write a letter for China.

It starts with the following words:
                  In 1865then the rest is blurred,
                                 tapering along the riverbed.

Weijia Pan