What was China before kingdoms,
Before bronze or millet or rice?
Who did the first divinations
And how did they ask their questions?
Did they scratch characters, pictures
On tortoise’s underboxes,
Or did the symbols come later?
Perhaps at first they read the cracks.
The people might have been the same,
To be sure, highly similar,
Including all the ancestors
And many with no descendants.
The people would probably be
The least surprising thing to see,
Foraging like folks everywhere.
But to be beside the Yangtze
Full of crocodiles and dolphins,
Absent any farms or cities,
Absent imperial armies,
Aligned just differently enough
That, although the sun and the moon
Have hardly altered hours since then,
Would gleam an alien heaven.