Rice Fields

A poem by Tom Mangione


He sat in the car thinking


(this is how I’ve come to China

where ducks and dozers vie for space

in the muck and mud of paddies

where workers throw their backs down

among the rings of factory fanfares

calling the age to order

when men in collars or coolies

look upon each other and say

so neat, so straight

so perpendicular perfect:

“who will you be, how will you show

the time is now, our lives must grow”


grow on like mine too

grow on in this promise

of something new


beyond the dreams of decadence

of road-head seat-back love affairs

terminating in parking lot burgers

and marriage mortgage vows

the grail of garages

stabled with SUVs

to cart the fridges full

for foraging to the swish of soccer sacks

and clatter of cleats

that grow to thumping drums

and microphone wails

power-chord riffing

and silent reefer sales


then through the trouble

of my child’s youth

to send them off

and hope to see them grow

beyond parties of ice-luged booze

and callithumpian orders

in books and letters

so neat, so straight

so perpendicular perfect:

“who will you be, how will you show

the time is now, your life must grow”


where my child thinks it too

to grow on in this promise

of something new


but I’ll look at myself

worn and grayed before a mirror

like a veteran wolf

catching a glimpse on an icy riverbank

after several rounds

of beer-toting, good times

with buddies and babes from my past

in neck-gripped horror

before my dilated eye

I’ll look back and say

I never grew

but stayed the same way


and so here is China

the land where revolution

cut a culture

deeper than the Marianas Trench

where words are stories

that whisper the rise and fall of life

that adorn this raised stretch of road

calling over our memories

from the green-grown past

to the skies of vacant condominiums

and salacious shopping malls

harbingers for what the world that will be

when concrete covers all I see

and everything I ever knew)


about rice fields.

Tom Mangione is a writer and musician living in Shanghai. He's one of the founders of United Verses and the lead singer/guitar player of The Horde. "Rice Fields" is an extract from a novel-in-verse currently in progress. More of his musings can be found at his blog, Scruta

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