Christmas by the Desert

Christmas by the Desert     –by Jinny Batterson

(Originally written in December, 2006, as we completed a first term as foreign English teachers at a smallish desert reclamation university in far western China.)

On bad days, the weakening sun blinks slowly over a bare landscape.
The students who bother to show up at all
drowse or exchange text messages on their cell phones.
Life seems brittle; our small attempts to make a difference, to enjoy ourselves
While doing it are dry as the dust that, folks tell us, will fill the air in April.

Uyghur, Han, Mongolian, American–
each of us wanders with little sense of direction
In this polyglot excuse for a university,
where misfits and refugees from “inland”
mingle but do not very much mix.
It is cold, and sometimes, even in December,
The wind blows.

Good days predominate.
An older student respectfully inquires
about differences among Western religions.
A few stalwart undergraduates continue to attend classes even
After their prescribed seven listening sessions are up.
An abundance of kitschy but sincere
holiday decorations festoon the shops,
Spreading a message of peace and goodwill that needs no language.
Wintering birds twitter.
Faraway friends send emails.

A little clean snow lingers in the shadows and on hedges from the dusting
That fell nearly a month ago.
Adults and children who do not know us say an English “hello,”
The children accompanying their greeting by giggles and running away.
Crews gather leaves and prune the dormant trees
to prepare for the next warm season.
The desert nearby covers us all with a sort of stillness,
Scouring away the unneeded cares of more “settled” life.

Our family and a not-quite-grandchild send pictures and greetings.
Life is resilient.

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