Wang Ping

A Paradise

Didn’t plan this—
sixty feet in the clouds,
on top of a billboard that says
Welcome to Hangzhou—Paradise on Earth—
I take off my jacket, belt, sandals.
My pants slip to my ankles.
Off they tumble like a banished crow.
“Take it, you vultures!” I shout
to the crowd gawking below.
“This is all I got, all I got!”
With hope I’ve come to the paradise
to find work and bring home medicine, shoes, books,
and my Mountain Lotus that I hadn’t seen for twenty-six months.
Children need a mother just as a husband needs a wife—
a peasant’s belief is as stubborn as a mule’s in the grass.
Three days—a wink of an eye in the mountains,
not enough to plough my terraced fields,
not even for seeds to stir the earth,
but enough to change a man’s fate.
Three days of wonders along the road:
cars, cities, skyscrapers in neon lights,
perfumed girls on men’s arms—
things that make us forget our homes…
Till the train entered the city
And the spike-haired men appeared from nowhere.
They searched, cursed, punched,
calling me a rat, a maggot from July’s latrine
They tore my cousin’s address, my wife’s photo,
and pocketed the fifty Yuan I hid in my crotch.
I screamed and screamed,
but the cops flung me off the train, laughing.
How did all this happen—
Standing on this billboard, naked
Homemade underwear covering my shame?
Who will hear if I cry to heaven
through the golden arches of McDonald
where cuckoos no longer sing to the sunrise?
My Mountain Lotus,
Is this the paradise you’ve been seeking—
sweatshop, factory, restaurant, hair salon, house cleaning?
You wept in each letter: lonely, tired, broke, broke.
“Come home,” I said, “better poor together than rich apart.”
“Only fools like you plough the fields,” you wrote back.
Then no words or money, only a cousin’s message:
“She rubs foreigners’ feet in hotels
and hangs with fat old men.
Earrings, bracelets, hair like a bird nest . . .
Oh man, she looks hot, but not for you.
Hurry, claim your right as a man.
Enclosed is travel money.
Work on construction sites to pay me back.”
Wind tears at my face.
I look to the south
I look to the west.
Home is a thousand li away,
hidden in red mountains, my green terrace.
A storm gathers under my feet.
Before me, clouds loom.
In the back, nothing but whirling emptiness.
Where are Chairman Mao and his teachings—
Serve the people with heart and soul?
What’s a sky without birds?
What’s a paradise without love?
The crowd chants in unison:
“Swan dive, swan dive!”
Their eyes gleam in the morning rush.
A cop waves his club,
another shakes food and water.
Cameras flash like I’m a monkey.
A truck arrives, firemen climb the ladder.
I can’t get caught, must not.
The road ends here
So does hope
Father, Mother, forgive your son.
I’m falling
Into the pit of Paradise



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