The Night Market
by Beth Langford
Some time after Crow made the world
she flew south. A little shopping holiday --
and what great finds!
She combed the lot for sweet pools of mango juice
at discount rates, she wolfed chow mein and its shadow,
a skewered prawn and its shadow, French fries
and their shadows
the way she always did:
always the shadow with its worm,
the dark afterthought
not bitter exactly,
not much like anything
but the bread at the front end of a buffet table,
something there to trick you full.
Soon Crow's sights fell
on half a Korean pancake
its chewed-up shape
casting a crescent shade
oddly on the pavement.
She sidled up to it, nonchalant
as birds are, and dove her beak down in,
detaching green onions,
the sliver of the shadow
submerged in frantic crumbs.
Crow hopped away, pleased
with her bright idea.
But soon the bereaved shadow rose
in confusion, became the flaw
in a factory warehouse pair of sunglasses,
the dark hair in the dragon's beard
candy a toddler carried. It passed under a lamp
and someone looked up, expecting rain.
After not long at all
it picked up speed, circled above
long tables of DVDs
and self-destructed into a hanging light
shorting it out.
Mirrored sparks flew in Crow's trickster eye.
Sheepish, she sidestepped the newer, larger darkness
and developed a strong
and sudden interest in
nightward swirls of bamboo. Paper fans
a girl pulls open --
Messages repeated over loudspeakers.
Above the din the stallkeeper is speaking to me.
"Those necklaces are jade, from China. Real jade. You know jade?"
I know Jade.
The rabbit who threw herself into the fire
when there was no food to offer her wise guests,
the discount life.
The moon that reflects white light
into every darkened sky,
the heart so pure
it holds no image.
With stone from another mountain
she could be honed into the beguiling monkey,
the patient heron,
Totoros, Puccas, Doreamons
Badtz Marus -- the plush orbs of their faces
hover on the tent's backlit wall.
The stall's nervous guardian
knows they have a will of their own.
They might detach, might float out into the marketplace
their fat cheeks giving them height and dominion
over the low plane of light.
I think they'd be benevolent rulers.
We'd have to obey the laws of kawaii:
our words clouds
of pink smoke above our heads
our expressions never cryptic --
the kids sifting through the stationery sale wide-eyed
the man serving chocolate bubble tea in the food court
happy, happy, happy.
Only the characters' faces
would remain unreadable,
the plans of each concealed
behind the fixed u of a mouth.
Behind every Made In China
Behind every Made In Vietnam
I imagine women somewhere hot,
hot and stuffy
assembling summer dresses
or toques and parkas --
piecing together a foreign winter.
I imagine these women
in rows like market stalls.
A vast room full of every sound
but that of their mute hands,
which move faster
and make paper fans sheltering herds
the tongs they use to serve those pancakes
at the Korean pancake place,
Badtz Maru. The night market's
Maybe they sew the sky
out of polyester cloth.
It would not surprise me.
These women are gods.
knows how to read dichotomous keys, but she flips burgers with no close relatives. Her favourite fruit is the apple, but she's a bit of a picky eater and only likes the red cultivars.
This poem was written after a visit to the Richmond Night Market in British Columbia, Canada, which inspired the setting -- though not necessarily the events -- described in it.
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