by James Penha
At twilight I ride through the arching
threshold of Yangshuo People’s Park toward the bicycle stand
of the young man with the red lips, pouty, the way I love them
on me. I pass the children on mongolian steeds cantering up
and down round the whirligig and then
by scores of fashionable elders, some a la mode
some a la mao, dancing in the dark
to communal tunes before the pair of limestone spindles,
auspicious symbols to mark my path to those lips
that asked me to return the bike by sunset so
they might have their dinner on time. I want
to join them up the stairwell to his simple flat; I want
to be their supper.
Crimson as the setting sun, his lips form the syllables
of my name. I am recalled, and brake toward the boy,
whose mandarin character I hope
I do not mispronounce:
Dismounting, I feign a crippled back
to point with open palm to the balm
he sells from a box beside the bikes.
The young man nods with those lips upturned;
he licks them slightly as
he slicks his fingers from the jar
and rubs beneath my belt before
with night relief flows over
from him to me and back.
I dare not formulate 我愛你,
but I can mime square
and circle, sky and earth, yin
and yang, and surely I can whisper.
A native New Yorker, James Penha has lived for the past 19 years in Indonesia. Snakes and Angels, a collection of his adaptations of classic Indonesian folk tales, won the 2009 Cervena Barva Press fiction chapbook contest; No Bones to Carry, a volume of his poetry, won the 2007 New Sins Press Editors’ Choice Award. Waterways has selected lines from his many contributions to that litmag as its 2011-2012 themes for submissions. Penha edits The New Verse News, an online journal of current-events poetry.