Digging to China

Kalen Schack

There was a hill with grass stubble
that shone with dew
in the peeking morning sun.
That hill would hide a project that would land
four or five young boys –
depending on attendance –
in the heart of Mainland China.

The teacher claimed
that if you were to tunnel through the earth
you would eventually reach China.

We thought to dig straight down
with hands and sticks like early man,
a rubber-handled garden trowel if we were lucky,
and pop our heads out somewhere new.

We didn’t know where or what China was or who lived there.
We only knew the shape on a map and the little gold
stickers that came hidden on the bottom of all our toys.

I couldn’t imagine how one place
could have so many toys,
and how happy the people there must be.

Each day we crept
through the woods to a field,
grappled by a rusting chain link fence,
to crouch and dig with grubby hands
and talk about things that children think are important.

We wiped our hands
On each other’s shirts and pants
And returned to class.

Our hole filled with water and orange
autumn leaves during common rains and we moved
On to other things – monkey bars and wood chips –
Until our hole dried and we resumed.

Later that week we learned of Earth’s tumbling core
and that we’d have to dig around it,
so we started digging at an angle.

Our three-foot-deep hole
was filled with soft soil by the groundskeeper
one dozing afternoon while the sparrows
swooped down on him and the caterpillars
crawled on their creaking fences.

Later that year we learned
that if we dug the tunnel to the other side of the earth,
we’d end up drowning
somewhere off the coast of Madagascar.

Fifteen years ago I learned
that we wouldn’t have even made it
past the mantle.

Sometimes I think about the four or five Chinese boys –
depending on attendance, –
who thought they were digging straight toward us
and that maybe our tunnels
would have met in the middle.

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