By Marcy Rae Henry
The growing season is over and China, colored like copper, is busy with the harvest. Stalks of rice fall from the sickle and lie bundled in neat heaps before being rhythmically beaten against the inside of deep basket weaves. Grains switch to flat baskets where they’re shaken and tossed over the heads of those who’ve gathered them. When they’re spilled onto the street and spread out evenly to dry, whole sections of the road turn blonde beneath the sun. Once dry, the rice is swept up with witches’ brooms, with the occasional boulder you will bite down on at least once while in China.
The town awaits the rice. When it arrives in coarse gunny sacks, on carts and burdened backs, people comment on the crop. Proud the rice originated here, they praise the Pearl River valley. As soon as the harvest ends they will celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival, buying lanterns upon which they write riddles they invite others to solve. Numerous lanterns end up in the river guiding ghosts of those who’ve drowned. The living will eat mooncakes filled with bean paste and shaped like the planet that lights up fields and festivals.
For now, rice falls from the sickle and verdant paddy fields are traversed and harvested with shallow canoes. While one person poles the watercraft forward, another person uses first one stick to bend the long stalks into the boat and a second stick to knock the kernels free. It is as rhythmic and repetitive as a poem. When boats become obscured by blowing blades of grass, provincials squinting from the sun beneath sedge hats appear to hover above the land. They could nearly be mistaken for manifestations of the spirits in need of guidance when, simply put, they are but a persistent and lingering vision of the valley, as common and magical as rice.
Marcy Rae Henry is a Latina born and raised in Mexican-America. She is a mediocre musician who writes fiction, nonfiction, short stories, poetry and spoken word, and she is author of The CTA Chronicles. Ms. M.R. Henry is an Associate Professor of Humanities and Fine Arts at Harold Washington College Chicago.