Wonder-Wounded Hearers
the Cultural Revolution, 1966

Collectivity was a kind of uncollecting,
like lining up our pencils to sharpen
them away. With taut demeanor

we stood, even while leaning on the state.
What was taught was babel: each word
as good a faith as any. Sound-schemes.

Down south, we never gave up superstitions.
Three would always sound like "life,"
and four like "death." Two would mean "ease."

Nine: "longevity." The Red Guards surfaced
everywhere, distending from a history
of kowtowing, and these comrades of

steely thirst surrendered their rivers to sea.
But my father worked in Hong Kong, typing—
came back to us in collared shirts and slacks

once a year at most. He sent dinky jars
of grain, pig fat, and flour which I kept
under the cot at school. By then,

having food meant poor fellowship.
China, under cold covers, pretzelled
to yank her socks up. Some wanted

the change, those who knew infinity
by dreaming a thousand times, to wake
another ten thousand and find the same:

no work, no history but age. But we,
we missed the big exams we'd studied
all our lives for by eight ("harvest") days.

The announcement came like blasted rain.
My handfuls of grain, rescinded.
My poverty, bourgeois.

Eleven ("certain dawn") of us, unworthy
of the buses to Chairman Mao's Beijing,
banded together, sure that we also do

desire, do morrows. We walked north,
stopped at every town to fluff dry brush
for change and revolution, for shelter.

We carried a radio worth weeks of food
with two batteries—rechargeable by sun,
one full afternoon for half a minute's sound—

as static guidance from our gods.
We made it into winter and as far
as Wuhan. One sprained an ankle.

Down to ten: "certain" what?
Another one deserted, but
where? Whose "longevity"?

A month in that town piling debts
in snow, sketching tigers by watching
kittens. Time dwindled us to five:

"no," "not," or "nothing."
The radio told us to go rural,
sack the old, start interrogations.

And we chanted down to four ghosts,
after that rebirth, then promised ease,
then the scary single day's obeisance.

Henry W. Leung is a Kundiman Fellow and writes a monthly column for the Lantern Review. Recent/forthcoming work can be found in ZYZZYVA, Cerise Press, Memoir Journal, and Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine. He will be at AWP 2012 on a panel, "Speaking in Tongues," about writing inside multiple languages and cultures.

Boxcar Poetry Review - ISSN 1931-1761