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  • 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
  • He Xiang (bio)

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...


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