The Woman Only Wanted Water

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.