Handmade in Guangzhou

by Robin Houghton

Past an open door big enough to drive in,
a soup of steamed up figures just visible inside,
angled shouts over the hatcheting of hung meat.

Up a wide staircase: lino into whitewash as we climb
back-lit by metal framed windows, a token logo
– hand painted, off-brand – to make clients welcome.

Long tables in the machine room, ribbons of women
poised at their work, heads pressed together, bowed
as if praying to the western god of sports & leisure.

We are the tall, pale americans, curiosities, stalked
by stares, yet eye contact is a kiss they choose to withhold,
not part of the contract. Nobody coughs or talks.

In a glass-walled cell we lean on forearms over drawings,
add two mils here, re-form contours of midsoles, laugh
at our own jokes. Next door the silence of a break:

a row of heads on folded arms on desks, and us
having boxed pizza and Coke brought in, still arguing
over mesh, the heat, the placement of stripes.

Evening brings a flickering from the window: outside
and below, sat in the dust a crowd out-gazes us. Top Gun
in projection, our faces a small flaw on the big screen.