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October 2013, vol 8, no 3

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Jianqing Zheng

Rice Planting

Sixteen years ago I was offered a campus job interview in the Mississippi Delta. After I drove across the Yazoo River Bridge and bypassed Greenwood, a large stretch of flatland appeared before my eyes. Corn, cotton, and even some rice. These crops reimaged the farmland in the central part of China where I was rusticated after high school during the Cultural Revolution to receive the reeducation from the poor peasants about how to dig the earth—a popular phrase used those days in a pretentiously lighthearted way to mean doing rough farm work against all kinds of bad weather. Of all the farm jobs I had, planting rice with bare hands and a bent body under the hot sun was the least I could tolerate, because leeches frequented my shanks to suck blood. When you felt the pain, the leech's belly was already filled with your blood. Filled with anger, you pulled the leech off your shank and squeezed your blood out of its body and flung it toward the dirt road. Although almost forty years have passed, each time when I think of rice planting, images or similes begin to drift before my eyes: planters in the rice paddies like exiles in the desert, chinaberries along the dirt road like Blackshirt soldiers, sweat streaming off the face like hot pee, and cicadas' shriek like the suppressed cry of the mind.

farm night game—
patting mosquitoes
landing on legs