This poem is dedicated in memoriam to Ms. Wang Lixuan. Because she was raising awareness about the repression of peaceful Falun Dafa practitioners in communist China, she was unlawfully arrested and detained, alongside her small child. On November 7, 2000, they were both tortured to death at Tuanhe Forced Labor Camp in Beijing. The depiction in the poem draws upon Ms. Wang and other mothers’ suffering caused by this persecution.

I.

A spell of poisoned words has spread its mist
And covered with red cheers an age of chills and moan…
Nights pass and fewer souls are seen; their fates—unknown
And kept unknown so fear can hauntingly persist.

Behind the street lamps there are eyes; behind those eyes
Are clenching fists prepared to crush insightful acts
Which share—despite the Great Hall’s goal to govern facts—
Beliefs immune to being warped by rampant lies.

… With heartfelt care, a woman softly lays a gift
Upon a mat—“a blessing daylight will disclose,”
Thus smiles the gaze of her small son. Inside, he knows,
Are words of candle flame which make the darkness lift.

Still, this pale dawn will bring no joy, but deep ordeal—
That beaming gaze now falls, in tears; those giving hands,
In shackles… On the trampled gift a shadow stands;
Its grip portends the plight the two hoped to reveal…

II.

Though just foul air is left to breathe, mid prison walls,
It seethes with gushes of guards’ rage—yet, they’re in vain;
Each blow the woman bears spreads thunderbolts of pain,
Each pain but fuels her will, her torch when darkness falls.

“Reform!! Your words turn ‘red’ or you shall turn to dust!”
So yell the human “cogs of the machine” and show
Its inner face, which opens furnace mouths below—
The “mem’ry holes”* for minds and testimonies just.

… Wild shudders of the breath are all the child can feel;
Transfixed by flames of fierceness never known before,
He soon forgets his needs, his grief, his tears that pour.
The nameless laws of nightmare transfigure what is real…

The mother’s voice, though fading, shapes her stance of steel,
“My thoughts, my words be truthful or in muteness drown!”
… As futile fury’s whip once more on her comes down,
A tear of blood rolls down her lips her pledge to seal.

III.

“How far, though thrashing, seem the endless bolts of pain,
Far ‘neath my spirit’s sky, now ‘neath my every sense.”
… Her soul relives its destined course, through streams of dense
Depictions of the days when virtue bore no chain:

As grace of moral Law was spread throughout the land,
Truth’s beacon led clear minds on wisdom’s path to meet;
While in Compassion’s rhythm hearts began to beat,
The breezes of Forbearance blew towards horizons grand.

IV.

… Soon back, the captive’s thoughts, in knowing woe, peer down,
“How many left to shine mid ashes, gloom and fears?”
She slowly wakes: A shaft of brilliant light appears,
Then, casts upon her brow the halo of a crown

Its glowing warmth rekindles strength, rekindles hope;
The feeble boy kneels by his mother, on the floor,
Immersed in quietude. Dread’s shivers rouse no more;
A dawn within, instead, emboldens him to cope.

Then, brighter, brighter still, the sunbeam fills the cell;
As daybreak lights the bolted door, a key soon turns…
Come fumes of death? Come freedom’s breeze? Concerns
Fly by. The will beyond the falling lock shall tell.

V.

The woman’s words, unchained, melt doubts along the way
That’s shown; her wounds bespeak raw facts… Her gleaming eyes
Bestow forgiveness, yet, inspire each man to rise
For justice – gone’s the time when poisoned speech held sway.

While sunrays show the jails as scars upon the land,
Winds echo victims’ voicesF a l u n D a f a H a o*…
Stunned crowds behold the fate of those who would not bow
To hatred’s scythe, but, for the Truth, unmoved would stand.

 

*The concept of “memory hole” is derived from George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. It refers to an opening which leads to a huge incinerator used by a totalitarian regime to destroy censored documents and unwanted, incriminating, evidence.

*“Falun Dafa Hao!”, translated as “Falun Dafa is good!”, is a clear and straightforward Chinese phrase through which the practitioners of this Qigong affirm the good nature of their practice, especially when faced with the slanderous, hatred-breeding, propaganda used to justify the persecution.

Daniel Magdalen is a graduate student in the Faculty of Letters at the University of Bucharest, in Romania.

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10 Responses

    • C.B. Anderson

      De gustibus non est disputandum, but this was overwrought and bathetic. What I saw was not the struggle of an oppressed individual against a tyrannical system, but the struggle of a writer through the demanding mires that make it difficult to negotiate one’s way to the raft of good English writing.

      Reply
      • Joe Quintanilla

        I have a poem in the queue, two actually, and would be VERY interested in your honest opinion… no holds barred.

    • Daniel Magdalen

      David Paul Behrens, thank you. I am glad that you managed to truly perceive the tragic subject behind these lines. Such extreme experiences as torture and solitary confinement are actually difficult to be put into words. Moreover, the plight of families, including women and children, in such totalitarian societies takes place and is heart-rending. Though the mentioning of such suffering may appear to those not quite aware of these realities to be a sentimental overstatement, the cases that investigation reports have documented are actually painful to read. But I think they should be made known and one should have a correct moral stance regarding such issues.

      Reply
  1. C.B. Anderson

    Joe Quintanilla,

    If I catch your poem(s) and remember your directive, then I will be as honest as I possibly can. I will be brutal, if necessary, and you will be none the worse for it.

    Reply
  2. Evan Mantyk

    Dear Mr. Magdalen,

    An outstanding poem! When a poem successfully reaches urgent and global significance in its meaning, as this one has, it surpasses the shallow and mortal, and enters the realm of the profound and immortal. Not an easy feat. This is a poem about real people doing real things in a major real-life human drama that is unfolding right now. In a world of often idiotic fantasy super heroes and self-absorbed ponderings, we enter the marrying of the creative and imaginative with the informative and historical.

    The iambic hexameter and alliteration are solid as well. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe English is your second or third language, which makes this another achievement.

    Well done!

    Reply
    • Daniel Magdalen

      Dear Mr Mantyk,

      Thank you both for your kind words and for the ethical assessment of those underlying realities to which I hoped to give a meaningful and sincere expression. These lines were written not only to make a statement about the real-life tragedy ongoing in China but also to try to evoke the atmosphere and the complexity of human experience characterizing such events.

      Your comments – consistently constructive, encouraging and inspiring – are always appreciated.

      Best regards,
      Daniel Magdalen

      Reply
  3. Li "Web Crease" Du

    Mr. Magdalen’s “Past the Silence of Barbed Walls” is a striking and original poem. Perhaps one reason it is unique is that suggested by Mr. Mantyk, that Mr. Magdalen’s English is a second or third language of the author. If so, its diction is all the more remarkable. Though not addressing the same ideas as “The Hollow Men”, both Mr. Magdalen’s tone and his moral voice are reminiscent of T. S. Eliot’s, as is the breaking of the poem into five sections of varying lengths. Echoing the prison’s structure and its atmosphere, the claustrophobic power of the “solid” iambic hexametres lies in the enclosed rhymes. In addition, the allusion to Orwell’s “1984”, evocative of the torture of Winston Smith, is appropriate for a poem on the torturing to death of the heroic Ms. Wang Lixuan.

    Reply
    • Daniel Magdalen

      Mr Li “Web Crease” Du, your comprehensive comment is welcome and I am thankful for the appreciation you show for the text and its underlying message.

      Reply

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