Remember those black-haired dead souls who hold up the white-haired mothers

Liu Xiaobo
  • Liu Xiaobo
  • If my feet are chained, I’ll use my ten fingers to climb to you
  • If my hands are tied, I’ll use my knees and chin to climb to you
  • If my legs are smashed, I’ll use my broken bones to support you
  • If my throat’s strangled, I’ll use my stifled breath to call you
  • If my mouth’s muzzled, I’ll use the tip of my nose to kiss you
  • If my teeth are knocked out, I’ll use my toothless mouth to nip you
  • If my hair’s torn out, I’ll use my bald head to nudge you
  • If my eyes are plucked out, I’ll use my eye sockets to stare at you
  • If my body’s eaten away, I’ll use my scent to embrace you
  • If my heart’s crushed, I’ll use my nerves to remember you

This is section 4 of Liu Xiaobo’s poem “Remember the Departed Souls,” from his book June Fourth Elegies. The poems in that volume commemorate the student protesters in 1989 who agitated for modernization, greater democracy in China, an end to newspaper censorship, and an end to Communist single-party rule. After weeks of protests, the Chinese army fired on the student demonstrators who were either in or trying to reach Tiananmen Square and killed several hundred (the exact number is not known) in a brutal massacre that outraged the entire world. Desmond Tutu has written: “Liu Xiaobo is a global icon for freedom. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights. Today, this hero remains in jail, as China’s most famous political prisoner. Xiaobo is serving an 11-year term for his activism demanding that the Chinese government make his country more democratic and make its courts more independent. His wife, who has never been convicted of any crime, is under house arrest.” In November of 2012, just two months ago, 134 Nobel Laureates signed a letter to the Chinese government protesting Liu’s continued incarceration. The poems in June Fourth Elegies were translated by Jeffrey Yang. June Fourth Elegies is published by Graywolf Press and this brief section is reprinted by permission.

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