Some people never leave their own backyards,
not really, not in any way that matters.
Even if they get the visa, get on the plane,
they land in Nanchang airport with a year’s worth
of purified water and dehydrated
North American-style macaroni;
fifty aluminium packets of fake cheese.
This kind of person only sees the cracks
in the cement, only notices flaws,
blind to all but the myth of their own country —
a dream of some imagined, singular greatness.
I’d offer to take them out for breakfast
porridge: ground rice, spiced beef, tender slices
of peanut and garlic, served out of
a terracotta urn the height of a child,
but they’d never agree to it and I
lack the patience. Besides, they never last,
not for long, and I’m enjoying my time.
The Undiscovered Country
There’s an unbroken blue sky underneath
the weak-plated shell of my cranium.
Lying on my stomach, beneath that sky
hooking my fingers into the scree
of loose, golden sandstone at the edge of a cliff,
I can peer down into the rotting green breath of the earth
which seeps up from between the fat, dry lips of the crevice.
Tree-tips, curling, fern-like and ancient,
push themselves up from their secret, fertile roots
— just within brushing-reach of my fingers.
This forest has been growing in me for a very long time.
I cannot trace the trunks to the bottom of the loam.
There are animals, possibly monsters, moving,
down there in the dark.
Millions of them, swarming.
Occasionally, I’ll glimpse a flash of bright fur, or
the spark of a scale. I can hear them,
circling the branch-strained remnants of light,
calling to me,
‘Come home! Come home! Come home!’
and I grip the parched, craving lips of the earth,
until my nails tear and bleed,
clinging to this sunlit, imaginary safety,
to keep myself from jumping.
It gets harder, every day,
Bethany W Pope has won many literary awards and published several novels and collections of poetry. Nicholas Lezard, writing for The Guardian, described Bethany’s latest book as ‘poetry as salvation’…..’This harrowing collection drawn from a youth spent in an orphanage delights in language as a place of private escape.’ She currently lives and works in China.