It is early evening, not altogether very far from China, and a thought is blazing in my mind. So I steal away from the hut, where the smell of rice wine is thick on the voices of all those over the age of twelve, so that I may write. Or rather, I attempt to abscond but cannot, for I am in an ethnic Hmong home amongst friends who are at all times watchful and curious. So I do not steal away as planned, but rather overtly take leave, answering to a host of concerns with a hasty and vague pidgin sort of answer: “me go to see and painting,” motioning to my little book.
Having disentangled myself from the engagement, I head toward the rock. It is not altogether a very beautiful or stunning rock, but one to which I am always drawn when I visit this particular home—I suppose it is for its sitting-flatness, for its placement just around the enclosure for corn which gives it privacy and vantage above the sprawling rice terraces below, a place where I might find some solitude.
Solitude has always been the condition of my writing—not necessarily physical solitude, but a mental withdrawal to be sure. Cafes work well for this in cities, generally, with their living white noise and the security of strangers’ distance.
But here my solitude is challenged. I look up from my yet-blank page to find nine children ganging up, suddenly upon me, literally crawling over me and grasping at my utensils, giddy with all kinds of delight. Hoping to conserve my urgent thought, I scrawl something hasty and unreadable in a hand rendered half by me and half by the tiny hand pulling the pen from my grasp. Some note to remind me later. I give over to the moment’s forces, putting the pen in the child’s hand, and I teach her to make a mark. I pass the lesson on eight more times, acutely aware of the shimmering water in the terraces below and the moon-limned clouds starting to glow and glorify overhead as if with magical enchantment. I hold as best I can onto that burning thought which carried me out here, but I can feel it moving, spreading out and elsewhere, changing.
Eventually the children scatter off to other avenues of wonder, and at last I find myself able to retreat into that silent well of myself from which true language comes, and I fill some words in between the children’s marks. But the original thought has transmuted by now, ruffed and tussed and teased into further shapes by the personalities and desires of the visiting children, by the terraces and by the particular breeze which has kept me chilly this entire while. It has felt a frenzy, a struggle, a delight—to write these words, few as they are.
Stephanie Adams-Santos is from Portland, Oregon. Her chapbook, The Sundering, was published in 2009, and her poem “In the Afternoon” appears in the September/October 2012 issue of Orion. Image: Stephanie and Pli, ready to ride.