Three Poems

Tang Siu Wa


We always thought showing them would be enough
Painstakingly transcribed the mail-in news
chanted sotto voce lines of poetry and soliloquies
that spread like clouds over the sky
obscuring the stars        phantasms with grave faces
We silently wrote these puddles of blood
recited tank routes
rehearsed the dance numbers to be performed in the square
even arrayed a wedding of the dead
Wormwood’s memory is bitter, the rose’s offering so fragile
We always thought showing them would be enough

An eyeball rolls over the baked earth
alone, meaningless, empty memory.
“The seasons shift so strangely, people’s gazes are no longer wet.
Refracted hesitation
stabs the self, and others.”
O innocent, helpless
dust cannot alter
topography. Could it be sandstorms,
that permanent desert feature,
have enveloped this stifled city
It is too easy to lose focus
Ideology is another word for hurricane

Witness becomes a wound hanging in air
Expression the raft of deceit
Steal from my side the heat
of others’ candlelight
Smash the hand-blown glass bottle
in my hand
The cards of accusation
seal a tiny living room
cut-and-paste enemies into our group
Comrades float like fog
Every year we ready paper and our statement
its transcribers slip in droves into a pit
beneath the screaming of demonic flutes
Sharpened pencils are pointed and pointless
One skewers the solitary eyeball and holds it high
calling it a discount fishball from the vendor’s cart

Lose language again in language’s sandy current
get hacked to pieces by a brand-new silence
The copse of youth is growing fervently
this is not something we can penetrate
or avoid


Sleeping outside is a reality
The tents were likewise broken
Their sweat runs down our bodies
Just as young, as poor, as filthy
Negated people are all alike
Blood streams onto the ground

Maybe the song changed language
Maybe the instruments look different
Maybe we should have gone home sooner
Maybe the statutes they raised are even bigger

The books they read the survivors don’t dare open
The country they loved found repugnant strength in amnesia
The souls they left here have been depreciated
The bullets we imagine perforated their chests twenty-six years ago

We prefer to call ourselves newborns
We have white teeth and a narrow but fiery love
The pavement we lay on is just as nobbled and hard
Smoke from their cigarettes shades our confused eyes

The tanks that ground them roll into our neighborhoods
The TV that broadcasted them cooks us fresh lies for every meal
Our bodies blossom with gold Araguaney flowers        like their
The police they pleaded with crack our skulls

They say they know how songs die
know how reason has been ridiculed
They know the skill to sit in silence is a self-restrained language
know the hate of the defeated and the hypocrisy of fire

We say we won’t light any more candles
We say our imagined love might be destroyed by imagination
Our black disappointment pauses like a lost sheep
They say don’t believe the dictionary’s definition of “depart”
They say they like our parks, with those real trees
They mention a flighty sort of animal called “conviction.”
They touch our tattered umbrellas with silver fingernails

Subject Questions

We obstruct
                            Obstruct us
We cannot obstruct
                            There’s no way to obstruct us

We antagonize
                            Antagonize us
We cannot antagonize
                            There’s no way to antagonize us

We attack
                            Attack us
We cannot attack
                            There’s no way to attack us

We change
                            Change us
We cannot change
                            There’s no way to change us


We listen
                            Listen to us
We cannot listen
                            There’s no way to listen to us

We gather
                            Gather us
We cannot gather
                            There’s no way to gather us


We kiss
                            Kiss us
We cannot kiss
                            There’s no way to kiss us


We approach
                            Approach us
We cannot approach
                            Approach we cannot build

We have faith
                            Have faith in us
We cannot have faith
                            Faith we cannot carry

We weep
                            Weep us
We cannot weep
                            Weep we cannot complete

We eat
                            Eat us
We cannot eat
                            Eat we cannot escape

translated from the Chinese by Canaan Morse