North East New Territories, Hong Kong
We make our son. From the soil we make our son biscuits. From the soil we make our son biscuits stored in ceramic bowls. From the soil we make our son biscuits stored in ceramic bowls made with the same soil. From the soil we make our son biscuits stored in ceramic bowls made with the same soil we dig, burn, and grind into red dusts. From the soil we make our son biscuits stored in ceramic bowls made with the same soil we dig, burn, grind into red dusts, which means earthly affairs, a dream in an utterance that presupposes us.
Your son tugs at my sleeve, making me get him the red sugar cubes you prepared for our tea. Zest and mint. He knows I’m eager to please but you notice. So you push away the red sugar cubes and give him biscuits instead. The biscuits look like tiny pebbles. “These are sweet too.” Tiny fingers. Tiny bites. He is always eating. The way he abandoned his bread in the bookshelf for play last time we visited. This farm, this house, his birthplace: layered red soil, ghosts, and labor in the bathtub. Sweet when taken in small doses.
give and take
Take the mugwort and rub it on your skin. Take the lemongrass spray. The bugs are used to us. We are used to the bugs. They could tell you are new here so they go at you. Take the tomatoes. It’s not a harvest, it’s an explosion from the unbroken rain. I have been eating them, only eating them for a week. Take the white corn. Eat them raw. A burst of sunshine. Take Luk Sum. Take Man Gor. Take Ling Tai. Take Fai Gei. Take Tong San. Take Ling Jie. Take other farmers in mind. Oh, take the last batch of tofu from a friend’s closing factory, too.
The potatoes I take home are tiny and firm, except for one. Rinsing the potato, I poke my finger through the mud-filled holes, afraid of any sign of life inside. The mud crumbles into more mud. A hollowed-out starch maze. A sign that the earth does not taste metallic. I often think I could farm, except for the snakes that might slither into village houses, except for finishing the day’s work before the skin-scathing noon. Sometimes, life stops changing for the smallest of reasons, such as not being able to wake up with the sun.
“Our son was born before dawn. We named him Hei Yeung, hope for the sun. I never quite trusted the hospital. We read and discussed with each other to decide on the bathtub. The what-ifs became shared. Not all of us agreed. The ones who stayed in the farmhouse helped my home birth. We do talk about everything, like the way we share our income: wage or taking from the communal safe when needed? Sometimes we lose friends with the same belief, who want it differently. But I know they’re out there, working.”
Serve—sever; our—out: gunshots from unseen barracks puncture the air. Some doors do not open in the village, not just these vintage cars before us but always the fire, always the bulldozer razing the soil before it is taken from your hands. Farmers without farms. The city that could no longer feed itself collapses into your throat. “My tears sell better than my crops, eh?” Your mind, your body yields to the soil, despite—the day a friend’s farm shuts down, another celebrates a tiny harvest. Rice stalks bend slightly in giving.