He lay on the ground, the cold solid ground, finger crossed on his chest. It was the end of November. The sleet sneaked inside the shabby house, wind blowing from broken window, rambling with loud cry and silent tears.
His barreled wine bought from family workshop and tobacco leaf bundled up still stayed silently in the corner.
He wore a blue Chinese tunic suit which he never had before. The tailor worked all night to make the clothes. Eventually he had a brand new suite to wear, in his funeral.
He was my uncle, and a farmer.
Being my parents’ second child, I was illegal and should be invisible. Two months after birth, I was secretly sent to countryside to live with my uncle’s family, escaping from officials’ inspection.
I grew up in the countryside until I was five years old. The backseat of his old-fashion bicycle was my version of Cinema Paradiso where nature unveiled its beauty and where my first lesson was taught– revering the earth.
When frozen land fully melted to muddy soil, green grass broke above the earth and wild flowers scattered along the country alley. Spring rape flowers yellowed the whole fields, bees buzzing around just like Nice in Van Gogh’s painting.
Summer nights, the family slept outdoors, stars twinkling, dogs barking occasionally mixed with frog sound. Wind blew over, spreading fresh smell from paddy field.
In the harvest season, tipsy wind gently blew the rye into a rolling golden wave, dazzling, spreading fragrance of ripe wheat. Polar trees stood alongside the country lanes like a straight guard. Sun shined through clattering leaves. The sunset illuminated farmers’ faces as they were cutting rice under the fading sunlight, hay stack standing behind. His back shadow stretched in the autumn sunset amid the bustling field.
The tiny village was his kingdom. His world was about sowing in spring, fertilizing in summer, harvesting in autumn and selling crops in winter year after year like seven hundred million farmers in China, working early in the dawn and back home in the dark.
Satisfied with inferior liquor and self-made cigarette, he accepted his destiny and seldom complained. But poverty branded his life in the worn-out jacket, air leaking windows and paint peeled off bicycle.
“Will you take me to big cities and take care of me when I grow old?”
He asked me the same question since I was 5-year-old until he died unexpectedly. Back then, growing up was such a distant and strange word. All I cared was how to catch crabs with my little friends in the river.
So I simply nodded.
Years after he passed away, I was told all his life, he never went to anywhere more than three-hour trip.
In countless days of farming, facing down the earth and back towards sky, he held on to his simple faith and homespun values, seeking survival and harmony from the earth.
“Do not ever waste even one single grain of rice. Always respect the earth’s bounty,” he repeated this to me since I could barely grab chopsticks by myself. “The earth cultivated our life and culture. We are all farmers’ children,” his words still lingers till this day.
This is a poem dedicated by his life to the earth.
Year by year, countryside view seldom changes meanwhile a commercialized trend is taking over the society. Young generation is escaping from the land, pouring into big cities, seeking fortune and a new metropolitan lifestyle. Working on the earth stands for an outdated choice and an impoverished life.
The scene of gleaners coming back home in the sunlight glow with joyful smile and light laughter is fading into history.
Ten years after him passing away, I went back to the small village. There, on the green rice field, his grave hides silently amid lush rice leaves, covered by overgrowing weeds. A few steps away, a farmer, wearing a straw hat like his, was fertilizing.
The real poet, my uncle, fulfilled the last chapter of the earth’s poetry, by becoming part of it.