pen pal

i met him in his home town
(one of those generic chinese industrial towns
where they make plastic army men and fake
dog vomit and drink whatever petro-chemicals
they don’t inhale)

he was half my age and height but he had a ball
and was enamored by the notion of seeing a white man jump
so we played basketball for three days straight

i had the height and he had the speed
and together we were a menace on the court
(we could lose a game faster than anyone)

after the first day he took me back to his house for water
which i tried to refuse by mumbling assorted combinations
of the seven words i knew in mandarin
but none of it did any good and he was understandably confused
by “thank-you-toilet-five-dollars” so he called for his mother
who came out and looked me up and down
then flashed an enormous grin and ducked inside
emerging soon after waving a kettle and
repeating “ok! ok!”

when i got back to canada
i sent him two long letters
and he sent a few back,
practicing the english
they were teaching him in school

it’s been two years, though, since we last wrote
and i’m beginning to believe its true that
there are places in the world from which stories never escape

i thought i had packed one home with me
but i’ve misplaced his letters and
i no longer even remember his name

and that first night over dinner he must have asked his mother
why i wouldn’t drink the water

and the words she said then
are bottled up somewhere
waiting to be boiled of their impurities
and swallowed.

~ Rob Taylor

Rob Taylor live in Vancouver, BC. He runs the poetry magazine One Ghana, One Voice and edits for Red Fez and High Altitude Poetry. His poems have appeared, or will be appearing, in The Dalhousie Review, Nashwaak Review, and Vancouver Review. “pen pal” will be added to his chapbook, splattered earth, for it’s second printing, to be released in February. More of his poems can be found on his blog, spread it like a roll of nickels.

One Response to “pen pal”

  1. This poem is both beautiful and humerous. More than a story, it is a collision of lives. And then, you have asked the mysterious questions that evolve from such an encounter. Wonderful, as always.

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