A Hakka Man Farms Rare Earth in South China
First of all, it’s not rare nor earth, as they call it.
The metal lies under our feet, sparkling in the soil we farm,
Red, green, yellow, blue, purple, sky of grass
And buffalos, patches of rice, bamboos, sweet yams.
We came here as guests—Hakka—fleeing from angry
Lords. Year after year, we bent over the earth
Feet and hands in the neon soil, our sweat
Fertilized the fields, children, ancestors’ graves
Our stove cooked the fragrance from the sun and moon.
Now we dig, deep in the mud, our boots
Rotting in the rainbow sludge . . . Dig, and we dig
Hoes, pickaxes, guns, explosives, acid wash
Ten yuan a sac, this red dirt speckled with
Blue and yellow. Home, we cry,
A small haven painted with green.
Now the mountains are lifted.
Deep crates in the fields, blood and pus
In streams and rivers . . . all because the world
Wants this earth—“Vitamins” for I-pods
Plasma TVs, wind turbines, guided missiles—
Things that make the world
Cleaner and more beautiful, as they say
And here we are, in the waist-deep sludge
A sac of mud—a tail of greed
Leaching in our stove.
Fire licks my wife’s slender hands
Acid fumes in her lungs, liver, stomach
Till she can no longer sip porridge laced
With the thousand-year-old egg.
In our cooking woks, we exhume
Dysprosium, Neodymium, Promethium
All the names of Gods, they say.
If gods have eyes, would they see us
Slaves on this earth that no longer holds us?
In the distance, a mushroom of dust—
Boss and his Prius, powered by the sludge
That chokes my eyes, ears, nose . . . One Rich Field
twenty-five pounds of metal, ten-thousand sacs of earth
Ripped under our feet. We’re slipping,
Our chests soaked in blood, backs broken
Digging, pulling, no food or water.
Our quota still short, the boss will be mad,
But no matter. I light a cigarette, each puff
Is the last. Tomorrow is gone, like our village.
Here and far away, where horses ran wild
Under the sky, where we, children of
Genghis Khan, return every night in our dream,
which is gone, too, they say. Mongolia,
Our origin, now a rare earth pit for the world.
Oh, Hakka, Hakka, forever a guest
Wandering on this bare earth.