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Winter Worm Summer Plant


It looks like a worm, but really it’s a plant

From Qinghai-Tibet—the Blue Treasure Plateau

Where bat moths lay eggs on thin grass

And lava hatch by thousands

Through their mouths fungus invades

The sick worms crawl into the soil

Heads up as they turn in agony

Till spring returns and the fungus bursts––

A tiny purple sprout on the hollowed head

On the first day, it has the best value as medicine

On the second, half of its potency is lost

On the third, it becomes a weed


This is how chongcao grows on the high plateau

Where glacier water tumbles into Asia

It’s not lava or plant

Not gold or diamond

But cooked with ducks, turtles or sparrows

It cures cancer, increases sex drive, keeps women young

In Mao’s era, a bag of chongcao traded two packs of cigarettes

Now a kilogram sells $25,000

For the rich who want to live longer and have more sex

And athletes who want to win medals in Beijing


When wind blows in early spring

Traders mob the Three River Source—headwater

Of the Yangtze and Mekong where the best chongcaos grow

Nomads and their children come

By trains, trucks, tractors, motorcycles, horses

They set up tents and stoves

Put on masks, rubber pants

They get down on their knees and search each blade

To gather a chongcao, 30 square mm of grass is turned

A kilogram leaves behind thousands of holes

Merchants insert chongcao with wires

To increase the weight of the precious commodity

Soaking them with alum and mercury

The plastered fakes are smoked with sulfur

For the rich who want bigger testicles


And on the Blue-treasure Plateau

Rats are making happy homes

The Water Tower of Asia is becoming a desert



[Originally published in NHS 2008, http://www.poetspath.com/napalm/nhs08/Wang_Ping.htm.]