Bridge Across The Sky: The Beginning

The beginning of the novel:

fallow field

I picture yesterday’s river,
outside the village that was once
my home, beyond the grove
of dove trees with their long blossoms
hanging like wrinkled paper bats,
the river our parents
forbade us to swim, where we’d plunge
into the churn, blinded by cold
and the bright froth, propelling ourselves,
crossways to the current,
to rise, arms lifted, shivering,
on the rocks of the far side.

I hear our laughter
rising from streets we knew as well
as the outlines of our muscles,
where the old men and the married women
called out greetings for our families,
gossiped about our doings
and our futures, beneath
a morning moon.

I feel, still, the labor,
stooping, stooping, stooping
in the fields all day, the soil
drinking the strength
we’d carried from our beds,
but we knew
we’d rise with yet more strength
the next day and every day
that followed and that,
in due course,
we would harvest all:

A house.
A job.
A girl.
A life.

I should be there.

I would be there
but for my father and the plan
he nursed for who knows how long
before springing it on us,
on me, the day
I lost tomorrow.

(My friends
only envied me—You’re going
to Gold Mountain!—when I
would have changed places
with any of them, except
that I would not have sent
my worst enemy into such
a dismal exile.)

I see,
I hear,
I feel
the cadences of a life
I thought would last forever
but that’s now
forever gone.

Today’s reality:
the line I stand in with
my father and my grandfather
and the other Chinese travelers
from the ship, this line
on the other side
of an ocean wider
than a thousand thousand rivers,
leading to the shut
double doors of the long,
squat building at the other end
of the pier, where we wait
to be told yet again
where to stand and when to move,
when to be quiet or to answer,
and eventually
whether we’ll be admitted
to this country or sent back
to a land
I already mourn.

The doors
are opened. The line
begins to shuffle forward, toward
the dismal future I,
a good son, now
must hope for, but I’m thinking
of the Jah! Jah! of the magpies
that made their home outside
our kitchen window, of daylight
on a fallow field
in summer. Of Mei Ling
in her father’s garden,
bending to pluck a weed
or caress the petal
of a flower.

— From Bridge Across The Sky, Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster).

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