(Xian, The People's Republic of China, 1986)
He remembered the oily feel of the mud as he dug bones with the rest of the work detail, the soft (almost silken) feel of the skulls and there were thousands of them, the way they tumbled in the air toward the piles heaped next to the Nanking riverbank.
He remembered the smell of yams baking in the marketplace oil drums, the cackle and cry of the yam men who held them smoking in their thick gloved hands, the miserable blister of yellow yam skin as it fell, peeled, to the dirty street.
He remembered the damp smell of forbidden books, the ones long hidden and poorly handled, the ways their pages opened as if the words themselves would tumble off the paper into dirty piles of useless ink.
He remembered the way his father gasped in the whitewashed hospital room, the smell of carbolic and the rotten mouths of nurses who could not even read, the way a choking man was mocked by medicines trapped inside glass cases.
He remembered the tears that wet his stomach, between the layers of quilted coat and threadbare trousers, and the way that Shan Nyu cried to create them with his penis in her mouth, the lights of the evening buses cutting through the dismal smokes of coal and diesel near the Bell Tower.
He remembered the way sugar tasted the first time it was in his tea.
[Originally published in "El Nopal: Journal of the Southwest Symposium" (University of New Mexico, 1991) and reprinted in Artificial Rats & Electric Cats: Communications from Transitional China, 1985-1986 (Camber Press, 2008). Click on title or book cover for more information.]