Liz Robbins: "China Poem"



Public restrooms paperless,

a hole in the ground. Here in

China, she is a foreigner,

literally a squatter. She leans

to assume a forward posture.

But not too forward. Careless,

the first day, steaming through

hot Nanjing streets, a head taller

than the men. She is the Great

White Veil, headlights-and-horns

breasts blaring, her eyes behind

movie star shades. In the web

of distressed streets, she is a spy,

more alive here in the struggle

to disengage, engage. She learns

too late sunglasses are unfriendly.

Even the trees, strange. In them,

real magpies. She can't sleep.

How to tweak dollars to yuan?

How to tip? Everything seeming

sleight, taxi drivers circling,

driving up fares. The menu she

can't read, but from which

she must choose. Chicken feet.

Pig kidneys. Fish with bones.

Every part used. How spoiled

is she! How dust-frail and

without grace. If only she knew

how to conjure a storm. On the

arbor outside her window,

wisteria curls, dead petals hang.

She imagines rain, wind, so

many vines stripped clean.



Liz Robbins' new manuscript, Play Button, won the 2010 Cider Press Review Book Award, judged by Patricia Smith. Her poems have appeared in Barrow Street, Cimarron Review, Greensboro Review, MARGIE, New Ohio Review, Puerto del Sol, and Rattle, and are forthcoming in Barn Owl Review, Bayou, Gargoyle, and Poet Lore. Poems from her first book, Hope, As the World Is a Scorpion Fish (Backwaters Press), were featured on Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac and Verse Daily. She's an assistant professor of creative writing at Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL, and presented her poems this past April at a New York Institute of Technology conference in Nanjing, China.