Umbrella Movement / September 2016 (Issue 33)

Life Sentences: Sonnet for the Goddess (Tiananmen Square, June 1989)

by Henry Wei Leung

You were born in papier-mâché, a face plastered white, a thirty-three foot emolument on the fourth day, facing the portrait of the Chairman of Mao.

Father died that year we snuck through Hong Kong for San Francisco you were not the Statue of Liberty we landed in the great quake.

Nushen, “goddess” – not far from nusheng, “schoolgirl” – your hair cropped like Mother’s – like that girl ruling masses from a megaphone – her skinny hand pocketed – her four abortions.

And wasn’t I the forgery of a body never meant, never mine, never mind, so that someone in the rubble would forever look like me?

Goddess, your body was expedited from the body of a man leaning on a pole, flipped upright. Severed, his pole became your torch.

Some people have stared at heaven’s gate for decades waiting for a sign. Some people settled, and settle for seams.

A tank severed your hand, then the rest. You reemerged in harder mediums in tourist troves, where I was taught to lust for image, just images.

I fell in love with love’s treasons. Which of these remain forbidden words: goddess, swallow, roam, freedom, I?

G.O.D. in Hong Kong means Goods of Desire, a fashion brand which sounds like jyu hou di: “live better.” Does anyone say “God” except at first mistaken sight? Goddess of—

One day, my heartbeat quit its symmetry. An EKG said A.Fib and asked if I’d had heart attacks before this? I died of—

A place can be a people, just as grammar is the making of a religion. Why does this language only desire nouns and noun states and not move? Body of—

Listen: that year we were two eggs from one hen, dipped in black ink. We were thrown at the portrait of the Chairman of Mao. A thunderstorm washed us clean, washing the aberration.

But I’ve never had heart failure. But the machines insist. The machines insist.

What I mean is: we were the aberration. What I mean is: Let me be your country. Let me be nothing for you.
Editors' note:
"Life Sentences: Sonnet for the Goddess" was first published in
Asian American Literary Review
6.1 (2015).
 Henry Wei Leung is the author of a chapbook, Paradise Hunger, which won the 2012 Swan Scythe Press Poetry Prize. He earned his degrees from Stanford and the Helen Zell Writers' Program, and has been awarded Kundiman, Soros, and Fulbright Fellowships. He finished a year of research on the literatures and protests in Hong Kong, and is continuing this research at the University of Hawaii at Manoa toward the completion of a PhD. He is currently the Managing Editor of the Hawai'i Review.
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