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Zheng Xiaoqiong

‘Child Labourers on Mt Liang’: a poem by Zheng Xiaoqiong

The following poem is from In the Roar of the Machine by Zheng Xiaoqiong, a collection translated by Eleanor Goodman and published in 2022.

Child Labourers on Mt Liang

Life is nothing if not bewildering    this era gradually turns
blind      a fourteen-year-old girl wants to come with us
pulling the exhaustion of these times towards her on the assembly line sometimes      she wants to let herself return to her Sichuan village chop firewood     cut grass     pick wild fruit and flowers
her small weak gaze reveals desolation     I don’t know
how to describe it     I only know
child workers     are like sighs thin as paper
her gaze can smash a soft heart
why is it that what little sympathy exists
always gets crushed by the assembly line machines
her slow tempo is frequently answered
by the supervisor’s abusive curses     she does not cry
her tears swim in her eyes     ‘I’m an adult
I don’t cry’ she says sombrely
it’s bewildering      what is left of youth is only
memory      she speaks of mountain things like hillsides
like bright blue ponds     like snakes     and cows
perhaps life is finding a path out of bewilderment
and back to itself      sometimes her dark face
reveals a look of contempt
and she points at another weaker girl and says
‘She’s younger than I am     but she’s sleeping around’