Old Women Farming Rice

by Brian Edwards
The Poets' Graves
Honorable Mention, July 2009
Judged by George Szirtes

You want to sketch them as birds, storks perhaps, or origami cranes, speechless and hungry, wrestling stubborn ears from shoots. You want them bent by the weight of history, and these fields to be the pages of their lives, their children’s lives and their children’s children’s lives. Bowed by every failed harvest and centuries of typhoons and foreign invaders bringing noise.

You believe
an ideology in purple robes
raped these fields of men
dressed them in heavy cloth dressed them with guns
ordered them to kill
pointing everywhere.

You believe
a philosophy in pinstripes
stole the future of these fields
dressed the men in sweatshop suits
gave them comic books taught them how to steal
pointing everywhere.

You want these women
to be written on the landscape
forced into a right-angled existence
held down by Yasukuni and Zainichi
held down by Hiroshima and Nanking
held down by doutaku bells struck 100 times and more
held down by a hand on the nape.

Burn the flag! you cry.
Storm the Temples!

You wear these women on T-shirts.

And then you walk with them
crouch and push seedlings into mud
feel translucent skin on yours
hear laughter spill from toothless faces
laughter born deep in the gut
laughter at once ancient and coruscant.

                              they mock

before they teach you how to snap your wrists
and fill the sky with clouds of pure white chaffs
moved by the wind to where steel prisons pass—
curious faces pressed against the glass.

"Old Women Farming Rice" says what needs to be said and ends strongly with those faces pressed against glass. "You wear these women on T-shirts" is very strong. It is just that I think it is slightly overfurnished, that it might be better more compressed. The first verse of part III for example is more insistent than it needs to be. I think we know and feel that already. --George Szirtes