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Vera Schwarcz: Seventy Years Already

May 26, 2004

Vera Schwarcz

Originally published in Walter Tonetto, ed., Earth Against Heaven: A Tiananmen Square Anthology (Five Islands Press, 1990). Poems revised April 1, 2004.

Loudspeakers belch languid waves
to drench students hell-bent on marching
for “Science” and “Democracy”—as if
Western pop music could make them forget
Western political hopes, as if today
was not their day in history. But these
youths know, they greet the Party’s dance tunes
with softly hummed verses
of the “Internationale.” Over and over again:

Qilai, qilai jihan, jiaopode nuli
Arise you hungry, shackled slaves…
Arise for the last fight before
a bright tomorrow

While one tall youth
in well cut jeans, bullhorn
in hand, pleads with passersby:
“We’re tired, so tired!
For seventy years already students
have marched for freedom—too long
in coming!”

I am inside the chain of human
hands, inside the march, circled
by young writers who have not
lost faith in song, the Internationale
their bond of hope across an angry,
sullen world. For once I worry less
if this event is mine, or theirs,
what counts is to take back one
day of history from those who would
cut out its tongue, its heart.

In front of me, a boy bedecked
in a paper-bag cape decorated
with bold calligraphy: “Mother, don’t
think me bad because I heard
my nation cry and did not
plug my ears.”

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