“Boy Stirring Puddles with a Stick” by yim Tan Wong

Yim Tan Wong


My father is the boy shaking the sky
reflected in a dark puddle. He has torn
cloth off a rag

to bandage his big left toe
which earlier today he lost a disc of
while playing

with a knife by a rock.
Numbness and a field gone quiet
had preambled the rocket of pain

that detonated his leg and stockpile
of curses and blood, later cleaned then plugged
by a paste of cane sugar, ground with leaves.

Collecting river water for tea, some time
not far from today, he will dip with a pan,
then straight­­en his back to thunder

knocking the water out of his hand.
Flying Tigers, he’ll think,
mistaking Japanese planes for American,

and he will know his mistake
as branches, stones, and bricks
from the building he just stepped out of, fall.

He will know as legs, hands, and torsos
belonging to the Kuomintang, waiting
for morning tea, rain over him.

But for now, let him be a boy.
Let the sky be silent, the ground clean.
Let the puddles make small waves for sport

while boots are sewn, distantly shined,
while 12-year-olds pretend to be soldiers
and marching has not yet churned the ocean.

from Rattle #40, Summer 2013


Yim Tan Wong: “This poem began with a reflection, my own seen in a puddle, with clouds sat atop each shoulder like epaulets, which made me think of soldiers, and children playing war. This led to reflecting upon stories my father had shared with me about his childhood growing up in rural China in the 1930s, a time wrought with poverty, drought, starvation, and war, an accumulation of trauma and tragedy that dominated his youth, a span of years when one should have innocence, joy, and time for play. ‘Boy Stirring Puddles with a Stick’ is both a prayer for my father, the boy, as well as a prayer for children who must still witness and suffer the gruesome ravages of war.”

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