- An Old Man Drew a Circle, and: A Memorial Shed, and: Emperor Penguins on the Square, and: Duckling Dance, and: There Was Planned Work, and: What I Knew, and: Be Good
An Old Man Drew a Circle
A woman was singing about an old man & his trip south on tv. We laughed at the song, an old man went to the South China Sea & drew a circle.
It was springtime, she sang. It was springtime again, she sang, when he returned to behold all that his circle had commanded: cities sprouted up with the ease of a set rolling in at the start
of a new act, mountains of gold piled together as if we had never seen gold before (we had never seen gold before). A blueprint for the century to come, a down payment on immortality. Shenzhen was as far
as the moon then, as familiar as New York, the fanciest foreign city I could name, no dimension I could tunnel through to in my lonesome, my favorite chair cushion keeping me company,
sheets of names for imaginary maids. Now I wonder, did they draw a circle around Tiananmen Square like that old man drew a circle? Did he draw those boundaries too,
where roads spat out not money but gunfire? What anchors me as if cinderblock to river homicide, what I can't surface from wishing away is the condition in exchange for living: a pen's arbitrary path, the old man's clever line [End Page 8]
about black cats & white cats roiling the short years we have to call ours, a summer night lingering like crushed grapes staining the pavement. The violence chance visits on everyone, how do you cope?
Look, my city hadn't stopped trembling after our earthquake, hardly three years before the old man's trip, he could have drawn his circle anywhere but didn't draw it there. His ilk refused aid, altered
no course of ours. Whoever let dying bodies prevent their proving a point? Still we gave them the fealty of the punch-drunk to the hit, we knew it'd come harder next time. When it was rebuilt, the new city square
could have had anything, but it was a monument to the effort to keep alive in the aftermath & even after that, sleeping in army tents, drinking pool water, burning paper money year after year for the split-second gone.
A Memorial Shed
If I have run out of ways to mourn you—a white ribbon pinned to my guitar bag
aged sixteen, a day of fasting these lastfew years (let me be clear, not a hunger strike:
I have no demands, but let every pulseof hunger recall you to me)—do not fear
the silence. You must understand: it was youafter all who wanted to barter away the illusion [End Page 9]
of having, it was you who didn't trust the blindfoldof moderate prosperity: pork dumplings, a maroon velvet dress, cars,
it was all real for the first time but you said it wasn'tenough. Teachers, how do I come and sweep your grave?
The trenches of your battlefield the cement fractureson a ten-lane boulevard. Comrades, how do I
kneel to you in the Square? When do I tell people to come visitthis memorial shed I am putting up with load-bearing
couplets for frames? How do I rest the souls my mother sawon a night hiding amongst the switched-off streetlights
so as not to be questioned? I watch over you as you watch overwhat we used your exile to pay for: the ring roads burning
chemical flame, bullet trains to ghost cities, the heavysick of smog obscuring the fermented duck yolk of a sun, and
all I can say is the prayer of the moderately damned:I am sorry, so sorry, still and still now.Forgive me, forgive me, forgive me.
I recite your names hosed off from history, insist on metonymy:Tiananmen, Changanjie, Muxidi.Beloved, beloved, beloved.
Emperor Penguins on the Square
Have you ever seen emperor penguins on the Square?Maybe a June you don't know...