Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Joan E. Bauer: China Journal, 1997

A bamboo raft in Guilin. 
We drift at dusk with fishermen, 
their bonded cormorants. It’s quiet, but for the raucous cry
of birds, the splash of wings. 
 
Circling their necks, a ring of hemp. 
The muscular pilot, cigarette in hand, pulls the scraggly 
birds from silt-brown water, tossing them every seventh
   fish

Do cormorants accept the bondage?  
 
And as they ease to sleep, 
what flickers in their dreams: mud-skinned master open sky  
cooling wave  eye of silver fish?
 
                                                *          
 
Beside the ancient Wall, above cloud-draped valleys, 
we walk along the grey stone-ribbon that once circumscribed
the world.  
 
Our young guide says, 
 
"You are typical lao wai, over-curious, with questions.” 
But what we feel, confess it— exaltation: 
to stand upon this summit  in a flash of rain.
 
                                                *          
 
In steam-baked Wuhan, land of fish and lakes, near the
 cross-banks
of Yangtze and Han, we walk into Mao’s sanctum, the grand
 hall
of hand-cut rock.  
 
The sound of sycophants bursting to wheedle & cajole to stay
 alive.  
Banners hail in calligraphic strokes: 

Mao Tse-tung’s thought makes us unconquerable, 
fearless of death.
 
A photo of Madame Mao in pastel,
before her Red Guard days, accuses all who balk
of petit-bourgeois leanings. Her withered gardens, 
the sepulchral pond of tranquility.
 
In Mao's spartan room, he feeds on cigarettes, 
Hunan fish, dragon tea, his minions’ lies,
chloral hydrate for euphoria & sleep.
 
In a moonlit pool, he swims with fine-boned girls, 
up from country.

Do we witness or do we trespass here? 

Beyond, the scythe circling:
famine: village after village.   
 
In ’58 at Mao’s command, blind with smoke, 
the farmers stoke backyard stoves, burning metal knives,
shovels, spades, doorknobs, at the last,
wooden stools & chairs. 
 
The old remember: 
furnace flames against a midnight sky. 
Thirty million lost.  Rice, left to rot in rich red fields.  
A faded villa.  Bored shop girls.  Little Red Books.

--
  
Copyright 2019 Joan E. Bauer. Previously published in The New Renaissance

Mao Zedong (1893 – 1976)

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This entry was posted on December 4, 2019 by in Opinion Leaders, Poetry, Social Justice, War and Peace and tagged , , , .

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