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When We Stood

In the outskirts of Beijing
we stood naked in public showers
shutting eyes to cracked cement
and rotten wood benches.
I washed black hair without shame
as old women with
steepling breasts watched.
Young ones giggled,
girlish bobs,
splattering water on bodies
still white like orchids on Lei Mountain.

Eight o’clock and the military
processes, tanks in
perfect planted patterns.
Five minutes on sandaled feet,
they block our private deluge.
Toothless boys cheer
“Zhong guo hao!”
Families litter streets like congresses of pigeons.
We gathered hands
before crossing like a group prayer.
The tanks beat on, a cacophony of drums
harmonizing towards the imperial city.

At night
we wore our best red
like concubines who tortured their feet
and served blood from their souls.
color of lady’s silk
love and cinnamon spice,
giving girls airy romance and zest.
burning incense dust, sifting,
layering streets with film and fingerprints.
When we stood that night,
glossy faces under the tanks’ razoring beams,
I thought of rinsing
in a sea of red.

Posted 09/05/11
"When We Stood" was a recipient of the 2011 Willow Review Awards. This poem was originally published in the the Willow Review, Vol. XXXVIII, Spring 2011. Editor: Michael F. Latza. This version of "When We Stood" contains revisions from the author.
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