In Tiananmen

by Joseph T. Salazar

Maybe it is the thousands
of teach-ins that have led us
to construe our respective revolutions
as this stupor of mass shattering
mass: bone and flesh impacting
concrete, steel and glass
and those other landmarks
that seem to be shaped more
by gravity than the human hand.
Years after, these revolts
are still punctuated by fireworks,
and I wonder: did any of it

In fifteen years, I witnessed
three in my own country
and none made a difference
except for the decapitated slogans
embalmed in the grey accumulation
of profit-driven newspapers—
ghosts transformed into
half-meant punchlines to chide
how we misunderstood
our freedom. 

Tiananmen is colossal
and I contemplate
how efficient it must have been
to flick bodies like stones
instead of sitting down to talk
about the differences that give us
weight. Their shadows cast
a sullen tone across the pavement.
I sit with them and feel them
strain like the beautiful metaphors
that don’t work in a poem,
but still find their place. 

Shadows are haunted
by the shadows before them.
They hover and stir the stillness
when we lose breath over a city
transformed into a mass of monuments
and magnificent remembrances,
uncertain whether the shadows
that we become will disappear
in concrete, steel and glass
or if they will be illumined in time.

Joseph T. Salazar is an Assistant Professor of Filipino Literature at the Ateneo de Manila University. He was an exchange professor in Peking University when he wrote the first incarnation of this poem on Tiananmen. He spends half his creative time on a number of studies on consumption and identity, and the other half trying to finish a second book on poetry.

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