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‘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’