Poetry / September 2010 (Issue 12)

A Talk with Mao Tze-tung

by Fiona Sze-Lorrain

I don’t like being treated as a dead ancestor
— Mao, 1966

Our most esteemed Chairman Mao,
there are days when I thought I heard you
on the rooftop of a palace at dawn
waving to the sky and mouthing some words
echoed by Red Guards in hysterical chants.

Your painful death was not timely,
between an earthquake and an eclipse,
when the sun disappeared — "a dog ate it up!"
Your thoughts marched in the streets,
little red books going to war.

Your wife said she was your dog,
whoever you asked her to bite, she bit hard.
Fevered and barking, she devoured hands
and knees. Brought to trial, what
did she bite except her own tongue?

What are slogans, tell me the answer, what
are words and why do they poison
spirits and minds, though you slept with
books and the nation buried them?

I ask myself, why am I talking to you, dead man?
At a cocktail party in Paris, you are nowhere
till a Swedish journalist recites your poetry
and wonders why you praise heroes.

Clearly history has no last word,
they sweep it away by weighing pros and cons.
No one refutes you made the nation red, for
tourists never cease to swarm the Great Wall.
I do not believe in a weeping nation,
I do not believe in her mourning people.
Do you see immortals in white robes?

Do you dream of dead kingdoms?

--from Water the Moon, reviewed in this issue of Cha.

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