The sign at the border with firm politeness welcomes me in my own language. I take it on faith it doesn’t play favorites but welcomes readers of other languages with equal grace, though why it thinks the Chinese will follow this road here I can’t imagine. I have hours to read it while I wait. The bulk of its advice concerns my conduct after I enter the country it speaks for. Some behaviors it condones; most it warns me would be unwise. Specifically staying forever it doesn’t address, perhaps in case I hadn’t thought of it, and nowhere does it ask me what I might be seeking, what fleeing, what I hope to accomplish or bring back, for it is still a matter of hoping. On the wrong side of the border, my child is sick. Our doctor’s plan, endorsed by my family, is to place her naked on the earth which absorbs all bitterness. She cannot travel, but neither can I stand still. I have never wanted to leave home, but so much—the factory foods, the permissiveness, the comedy violence, the haste, and now the medicines to cure diseases we never suffered—has come to us without asking and there is no turning back, at least for me, until I find and take what I’ve come for and never return. I would like to say that to the sign in its own language. It is my turn to plead my case to a woman in a crumpled uniform whose jacket doesn’t quite match her pants. I plan to look her in the eye but everything distracts her. I say the word I’ve been told to say and she leads me to a room behind the counter to see if I’ve brought enough to be a welcome guest.

Copyright © August 25, 2008 David Hodges

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