Ernie Lowe: Free flying now

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Down, down,
      down poison oak slopes
                down to a wooded canyon,
        down to recollect the whole
   in a ferny grove of redwoods,
          settling at last in a ring of trees
      where once one giant stood.

Like the students from China last night,
     my eyes are dry,
              reflecting a dry stream bed.


I went to a ‘show to support Beijing students.’
      In the lobby banks of tv sets played and replayed
           scenes of that morning’s massacre —
           medics carrying bloody youth across fields of flames
   a jumble of bodies as only death can pose them
          soldiers tearing down the Goddess of Democracy
        a lone student standing against a line of armed soldiers.
The students before the tvs watched and watched,
                              eyes dry,
                                 faces blank with shock.


Down I come to recollect the whole.
       I thought I’d learned that hope is folly
                                     even as is despair.
But students in Tiananmen Square set me hoping,
              gave me homeland in their thirst for freedom.
   And now I lean against this redwood
         trying to remember that clear space
                                  between hope and despair.


The show went on last night
     in a hall hung with banners —
                           stop the killing
                                    remember the martyrs.
I thought art would give way to fiery speeches
    but no, a chorus sang, then a baritone, a soprano.
      Liu Xin said, “Tiananmen Square is bleeding
                                and my heart is bleeding.
              I will sing, ‘Under the iron wheel'”


 Liu Qiong-Jun danced
                 the dance
      of long sleeves
                 cerise sleeves
        flowing and rippling free,
                     filling the air
     with ancient patterns.


A student rushed to the mike to report a call from home:
     “It’s even worse than tv says.
        People stick their heads out the window
          and the soldiers shoot them.
                  Tanks are crushing students.
            It’s worse than the Japanese.
    Down with the old men
          who fill the streets of Beijing with Chinese blood.”


My head ached — so much rage reserved.
       My throat ached — so many screams held silent.
Then Wu Yu Kiang, holding his bamboo flute, said,
     “All day I have been weeping.
         I watch my people being killed.
                      I don’t see we can have freedom soon.
        So all I can do is play a song
             that talks about freedom and liberty.”


   And he played a lilting song of birds,
           birds calling in the air,
                  free flying now,
                 shrill and piercing.


            The stream bed below me
         is an S curve
             like Liu Qiong-Jun’s long sleeves
        free in the air above her.


   The fresh green of new redwood shoots
           springs from the tree at my back.


  Owls and towhees call free in the air above
     and I recollect the whole
          here in Tiananmen Grove.


Ernie Lowe
June 4, 1989