Suffocation Square

   in memory of June 4, on the third anniversary

    by Liu Xiaobo

Only for a moment did this Square, the world’s largest,
teem with crowds and their clamor;
then they scattered like mercury dropped on the floor.
Nothing’s left but the fear and a vast emptiness.
In the half-light that martyrs know,
steel helmets dance with the dawn.
Men judged by God
gaze out a window, somewhere,
and sip from the cup of morning
a dark purple liquid.

Those brave enough to cross this Square
could stride across the Solar System.

A fire burned to ashes becomes a warming word.
A tart green fruit ripens only in death, offered
to a Lady who has no use for roses.
Her voice enlightens the netherworld
like a red umbrella in the gray rain.
She stands motionless before the onrushing tanks
lifting her gentle arm.

In the moment she is overthrown
at the center of a vast emptiness
someone has dropped waste paper
on her proud breast
and the wind drifts it
across her slender arms.
Even if she never read the Bible
she should not have been forsaken by God
amid garbage piled at the side of the road,
nor should those few long strands of hair,
once wafted on a young man’s dreams,
have been stuck to her in bloodstains.

Were this a different spring
she’d be walking with her boyfriend hand-in-hand upon the Square,
and maybe would not even stop to sigh if,
inadvertently, she stepped upon an insect;
but now the vermin are shocked
to crawl over her bloodless lips
that yield to their grasping pincers
only a whiff of gore.

For absolute power
this Square, which death hollowed out,
has suffocated life.

For a line of pure poetry
this maiden, whom death molded,
has given up the written word.

June 6, 1992

translated by A. E. Clark