John Zheng – USA (PJ32)

rats roam
the streets

more cars
at win job center

Two Notes on Language Awareness

The cruise ship sails upriver through the Qutang Gorge. Bored to death, John steps out of his cabin and leans on the gunwale to see the towering mountain peaks and cloudscapes. A few steps away, a young man, whose black hair has been dyed golden brown, is taking pictures of his girlfriend who poses with a slight smile. Printed on the back of his t-shirt is a Trojan ad in English.

“Do you speak English?”
asks the cop. “No!” answers
the handcuffed man


In a filling station in the catfish capital of Belzoni, Mississippi, a man waits impatiently and mumbles outside the men’s room, “Usually women stay in there that long. How can a man stay in there long?” Standing behind him are two other men waiting to relieve their bladders.

shopping season
mannequins in new fashion
along each aisle
their eggshell faces
cold and cool

winter valley what i see is not what i’ve dreamed

David Graham – USA (PJ32)

Pain Believer

For a moment this morning, before I put on my glasses, I thought the aspirin bottle on the counter read “Pain Believer.” Which is exactly what I am, I suppose, especially as I age. Creaky knees and aching feet; stiff back, cataract-dimming eyes. It’s true I find my eyes as well as my joints steadily less reliable. And in fact I don’t much remember life before eyeglasses. But I do recall with prophetic sharpness the moment when the eye doctor slipped that first pair over my ears, then lifted the window shade. “Look out as far as you can,” he instructed. “What do you notice?”

I could barely answer. The world’s beautiful blur suddenly lovely in a whole new way. Distant trees, clothes lines, road signs all snapped into focus. Objects assumed individual identities. I could see single leaves trembling in the light breeze. But it was a strong wind blowing over me from then on, and delicious. I leaned hard into it.

tree limbs creak
against each other
in april wind

Kala Ramesh – India (PJ32)

The Palmist

My father never believed in the godhead, preferring simply to talk to his Lord Muruga, but he had an abiding belief in astrology. He was a doctor and one of his regular patients was Mr. Gurumurti, who knew astrology well. They would talk for hours about how the planets affect us. I often heard these animated conversations and would scoff at the idea that distant planets could even influence my digestion and health!

One day, father came home all excited because the roadside palmist had predicted that our family would soon acquire a piece of land. He whistled raga bilahari jubilantly. A piece of land in Chennai means money!

A week later, we had a visit from our neighbour, a robust man who always gestured grandly with his hands when he spoke. He had learned that the gate of his family’s compound was wrongly cemented; their family astrologer advised them not to shift the gate but to redo the compound wall according to vastu shastra. He said that since we had been their neighbours for more than four generations, a piece of land just over one foot wide was going to be gifted to us. He declared this with the expansive gesture of a king giving away bounties to his people.

This generous decision brought two coconut trees and one-fourth of a mango tree into our compound.

the criss-crossing
of tree branches —
knots in the air

stories in the trickle of an hourglass rain