In Old Town Shanghai, outside a temple
large bright-green strands of grass lift to fire,
incense laces through the air like white snakes,
and I can see those inside bow with clasped hands and closed eyes.
From nowhere, a Chinese woman is so close I see deep into her wrinkles. She raises her hand and points to my water bottle. I notice the black garbage bag over her shoulder – a necessary burden – and think: she needs the water more than I.
Before she can take it, a faceless man with a name tag
on a striped uniformed shirt slaps it to the ground. He yells at her as if she committed some horrible crime. I pick up the bottle and wonder what
she did wrong. She yells back.
He forces her with his voice and wild gestures
to the curb. All Chinese eyes
turn to me, the green-eyed American:
Do they want a reaction, or think I should have known better, or was offering the water
a kind act?
She disappears, lost in the city of millions.
Everyone quickly goes back to their business.
The man returns to his station by the entrance:
this government worker manning
the temple of his compassionate God.