To Eat

   These buildings are cheery in their own way, not unlike well-lived in caves. Or low hovels made into commercial premises. Brick walls, concrete floors; wooden tables, low stools. I tell the man meat and I plant myself next to the door so I can see the road. Better maybe to be closer to the cook for his fire is warming, but over there even he coughs on the chili he fries and the greasy smoke collects in your clothes.
  “You’re still here,” he says over his shoulder.
   He can’t see me. I nod anyway. There is cardboard laid out by the entrance. There are four rickety tables. I hunch over a greasy cup of yellowed water.
   The owner has a daughter. Skinny kid. And a wife somewhere. He likes to chat. I listen to him scrape at his wok in jolts of three – scrape, scrape, toss. The meat begins to sizzle. He coughs. Spicy vapours curl through the room, assail us both, and move on.
  “And something with vegetables,” I say back at him. “Green beans,” I say.
  “Don’t have,” he says.
  “Cauliflower?”
“Don’t have.”
  “Carrots?”
  “Don’t have.”
  “What do you have?”
  “Na,” he says, coming up from behind. He slides the plate of gristle and peppers and his thumb down before me. Spitting distance across the room is side table with bowls, sticks and a cooling tub of rice.
  “Ha ha,” he says, kindly, and pats me on the shoulder. Then he shifts back to packing up what little is still left out.
   The kid pops in through the back door, armful of clothes. “Ha low,” she says. Turns the corner out the front door and is gone.

To Walk

   For this lake, there’s not a lot to be said. Large and belly up, there are fish corpses today. They rock gently an arm’s length from where the brackish water runs aground. Failed reeds obscure the edge. Mist obscures the reach.
   Beside the water, the road is only hard in summer. In winter, as now, the trenches dug out by scrambling trucks end in thick yellow water best avoided. I keep on. At the end of this trudge is small collection of shanty stores and a restaurant. Present, theoretically, for the hypothesized return of the construction crews, who will, it has been supposed, rebegin the building of the buildings I walk beside, and possibly reclaim more of the water too. Fantasy billboards wall off the site, but the shells that will be buildings reach high. Gaping holes for windows. Some floors entirely empty. One building, little more than foundations and a scaffolding sketch of ten stories, has long threatened simply to fall over. If it did, it would have to fall across the road into the water. The site itself is too jam-packed to let it fall inside.
   My home.

The Crossing the Return Threshold

  “Tell you a story,” she says. “This place here, it used to be good. That river?”
   She points. I’m looking anyway. You can see how it was once much wider. This viewing platform is high and dry and the water should have been lapping close to our feet. The sluggish brown mess out there now, I’d throw my arm out getting a stone anywhere near.
  “We’re not northern,” she says, like ticking off a list. “But in winter there was snow. I used to be called Xiao Huo.”
  “You changed your name?”
  “No.”
   She has a point though about how everything’s fucked up now. Back across the road there’s a whole—I don’t know what you’d call them, a flock of buildings? Stacked alongside one another like lumber, and starkly unfinished. From the outside they form a wall of black squares – unfilled windows. Inside they’re a rectangular maze of unpaved alleys and cave-like foundations left open. No one lives there. Fuck knows why we’re here now.
  “Do you know why we’re here?” she says.
   It’s got something to do with kisses, I say.