Rumpus Original Poetry: Two Poems by He Xiang





Excerpted Instructions for Ending a Hunger Strike

                an erasure of the speech given by Zhao Ziyang in Tiananmen Square on May 19, 1989


1.         Too late. Whatever.
2.         Bodies, irreparable bodies: dangerous

            to end hope, to stop time.
3.         See, you are not like us.

4.         Not easy sacrificing
            your moment: go on.  The heart

            out the door, to visit consequences.
5.         What happens now can end you.


Back to the Scene


Of the crime: singing a Young Pioneers song
off-key, let us sway twin oars, not knowing
all the words.  There I spotted my cousin marching
on the streets from my perch on my father’s neck,

we walked right past him and my sharp mouth told him
to stop asking for trouble.  While you were out,
Death swung by looking for you.  And yet.  I
stood at daybreak, watching the Five-starred Red Flag being raised

on the Square, soaking in pride, the gentle brush of dawn
applied to me as heat to dough, I was already swelling.
Yesterday I studied Google Maps again (its lonely
searching dot blue and speculative, a cyclops

sweeping for the firewall), fingers tracing hutong sealed
in wax, gates a bribe again from resurrection, ring roads
tossed around new developments I could not name.  On my last visit
I had old timey yogurt with a paper top

rubberbanded to the glass bottle.  Every day the world
gets closer, learns how to hurt me a little better.  I remembered
the Young Pioneers song while kayaking on disputed waters
and let the top of my lungs take it from there.


Photograph of He Xiang by X. Li.

He Xiang lived in Beijing as a child. These poems are part of a chapbook manuscript entitled Emperor Penguins on the Square, which reflects on the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests on the occasion of its thirtieth anniversary as well as the author's childhood in Beijing and China’s development in the subsequent three decades. Other poems from this series have appeared in The American Poetry Review and Prairie Schooner, which awarded them the Strousse Poetry Award, and will be forthcoming in Bennington Review and Ploughshares. More from this author →