WALKING HORSE by Grace Zhou

Grace Zhou is a linguist, anthropologist, writer and explorer of the world. On her own blog, she examines the "exploration of memory and how it shapes perception of experience, but also about the present, which is continually passing,".  Below is a prose poem about her mother's maternal village. Photos are of her mother.

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WALKING HORSE

I.

Walking Horse Village, thirty, forty, fifty years ago pulsed luminously, fearfully,
warmly, darkly.
The luminous was in the afternoon fields chasing grasshoppers; in large earthen
vats, and my mother’s grandmother seizing by handfuls its pungent pickled
contents; in a summer repose where time stood still, because of the long, crowded
train ride, and half day’s tramp down a mudden path between rice paddies and rice
paddies, that separated this place from that.
The dark was a silence that cradled the world around its fading edges, the force of
death in life’s mundane rhythms, where every nook and alley, bump and void could
be a mark of passing between the known and the unknown
The dark gripped my mother’s sister when she heard of a woman at the local
factory, long black hair glistening as it tangled in the machinery, snaking around
gears, weaving metal to flesh. My mother’s sister crept into the room where she lay
cold and saw her pallid beauty, her scalp stripped bright and red.
The dark followed my mother on lightless nights on her way home, tripping over
lonely mounds of earth, casting glances behind for the red-faced cook from the
canteen, who died one day and was carried on a bamboo stretcher down village
lanes, one swollen arm swinging emphatically, a finger pointed at my mom.

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II.
In a dream, my mother found herself in Walking Horse, on a beautiful path lined by
shivering trees. Beautiful places in her dreams are always there.
She saw me at the end of the yellowing road with a snow-white goose in my arms.
I said to her, mama let’s walk to your grandmother’s grave, I have something to tell
you.
But she was suddenly overcome by immense weary, and she fell into deep sleep
when she awoke and I was gone.
Relatives said that they didn’t see me go to the grave. Why don’t you just call her?
No I can’t, my mom replied, she is cradling a goose and can’t pick up the phone—
the goose will fly away!
They waited for days but I never returned.
My mother felt dark and empty; that encounter with me standing in the brisk
autumn of White Horse Temple embracing a white goose, was the last. Even
wakefulness couldn’t shake the heavy feeling that something had been lost.

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III.
In the sticky summer heat, my mom and her sister took me to Walking Horse among;
hills dotted with paddies, worn clay roofs, and tiled new walls.
My great-grandmother was buried behind someone’s house, half a mile away from
her own, next to a grove of eleven pine trees, one planted for each of her children.
Two trees never survived their sapling years;
One, drowned as a boy by the landlord’s son; the second, killed by American
bombers in the Korean war. A third began to brown and bow many years later, and
everyone whispered that my mother’s mother’s eldest sister was sick and near the
end. When she died, they cut down the wasting tree.
My great-grandmother’s grave was at the foot of an auspicious mountain shaped
like a phoenix, keeping safe watch over the family dwelling at the other end of the
Walking Horse, bringing luck to those came after her.
Her grave faced the grave of her husband, behind the crumbling family cottage.
He was given to her in marriage when he was fourteen and she nineteen, and they
worked many tender years side by side. I saw my name marked on his gravestone,
the last line in a list of many, the final generation that would be recorded in stone, in
Walking Horse Village.

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