Inspired by real events in China


Not that long ago in China, in a labor camp confined a
Year or longer, I was sitting, making for a U.S. store
Christmas tree lights meant for hanging, when there came an awful banging
Like a phantom’s chains’ loud clanging—angling through the metal door.
As the banging and the clanging entered upon the room’s floor,
I recalled what came before:

I’d been peacefully posed there standing, my mind tranquilly expanding
When suddenly police with cuffs and clubs came for us in scores,
Telling us that “Faith renouncing, is the only way convincing,
That you’ll have for your releasing, walking out the metal door.”
I said “No” and they tried beating out the beliefs at my core—
But I said, “No” evermore.

Hanging me from arms back twisted, as long as my faith persisted,
Slapping until my bright red blood turned maroon upon the floor.
Then they brought batons electric, shooting out blue claws frenetic
Caused my body to go spastic, as their tools upon me bore.
Later when they threw on water, and they asked “Do you want more?”
I stayed silent evermore.

Many long days and nights followed, deep in misery I wallowed,
Thinking, “For what do I deserve conditions I so deplore?”
Then an order came for shipping, as my stamina was slipping,
My collar the guard was gripping, griping at me to “Work more!”
Six-month sentence expired; they asked if my faith I could deplore?
I stayed silent evermore.

Dreary thoughts like these came flooding, stale and broken visions brooding
As awful banging and loud clanging came through the metal door.
The policeman came in bringing long strange pieces he was flinging
Something he’d been rearranging, fixing up to make some more
Christmas packaging, improving our productivity score.
I stayed silent evermore.

Dollar signs in eyes came flashing, around the room he was dashing
Eager to see it operating upon the camp’s squalid floor.
Meanwhile my hands kept on working, his police baton kept lurking
Until I saw the thing jerking, working to improve our score.
Then he was spitting, “We can double our quota and work more!”
I stayed silent evermore.

My hands suddenly stopped moving, gently stopped us from “improving,”
As I had seen some brave labor camp prisoners do before.
Then a guard came at me quickly, waving his club, looking strictly,
But was failing to break me, knock me down upon the floor.
The head guard came over, hit me, and asked “Do you want more?”
I said, “I’ll work nevermore.”

Now his fury flared insanely, with a rod hit me painfully,
Down I bent but did not crumble upon the camp’s squalid floor.
Two guards locked me in a tank cell, filled with sewage that stank like hell,
If off my toes I sank or fell into that filthy pungent shore—
I feared I would lose my mind, yet I shouted out from my core:
“Falun Gong forevermore!”

Finally they left me hanging like some Christmas lights dangling,
Limply swaying back and forth all lit up with bloodstains and sores,
Until the leader came raging, filled with lies that were deranging,
Lies the media were staging, propagandizing galore,
Poison causing people to hate meditators more and more.
Then my lips breathed nevermore.

Seeing my body’s not breathing, and anger no longer seething,
The guard, a policeman, said, “Pick her up off the squalid floor.
We don’t want the fam’ly suing, so I’ll tell you what we’ll be doing,
We’ll say ‘twas her own misdoing: doing what people deplore,
Committing suicide just so she didn’t have to finish her chores.
(Cremate so none can explore.)”

Just the moment my heart beating, ceased its rhythmic repeating,
The head guard’s bruised wife and daughter walked out their apartment door,
Saying, “I’m never returning, for life without him I’m yearning;
Hopefully he’ll be discerning, learning that a woman’s not for
Only swearing at and slapping around when she doesn’t do a chore;
Of that I will have no more.”

The machine the camp was running, which could make profits stunning
Would in six months turn one guard’s right hand into a mess of gore,
Creating a bad infection not stopped by any injection;
Doctors cut off the whole section of the rotten arm that bore
Batons electric against those who passed through the metal door,
Whose blood his joined on the floor.

One guard with bad constipation, soon would feel a sharp sensation.
Running to the toilet, but before he passed the metal door,
Filth the bottom spews usually, came out of his mouth profusely,
Seeming to come  unceasingly spread out on the squalid floor.
Not so unusually, dysentery was what he had in store,
He died in one year, not more.

When the last light in my brown eyes, was extinguished without reprise
All the Christmas tree lights I had made that had been shipped to stores—
Stores across China locally, Europe and U.S. globally—
Acting in solidarity, died and shined their light no more,
Mimicking the darkness upon the labor camp’s squalid floor
Where my eyes shined nevermore.

Meanwhile my soul was raising, into radiant encasing
Woven of the fine material released from my inner core
Into matter-mind confluence, where ideas have real substance;
Where thought can make a difference; the sixth sense real as the floor;
Where the Truth, Compassion, and Tolerance that were my faith’s lore
Came alive and made me soar.
I flew upward and was greeted, by divine beings, some seated,
Having arrived at Heaven’s breath-taking iridescent shore,
Where the beings’ magnificence, their halos’ profound resplendence,
Their nimbus’s soft elegance, entranced my mind evermore,
But, one such great being told me, “You can’t enter Heaven’s door,
For you to do there’s still more.”

I was sent back to Earth’s setting as a spirit tasked with spreading
Wisdom at various aisles of your local department store,
Showing third-eye-open children the labor camp a toy had been
By innocent slaves produced in—such sin, misery, and gore
That the plastic doll or truck dropped to the glistening floor,
Children crying, “Nevermore.”

Floating invisible goddess with ancient and modern prowess,
I inspire life without Made-in-China gadgets anymore;
Through greeting cards of cherubs ‘n angels, Buddha statues in décor aisles,
Through garden chimes’ gentle tingles, jingles of Santa’s sled door,
Spreading a message of morals and those great kingdoms of yore,
Which live on forevermore.


Evan Mantyk is a high school teacher in the Hudson Valley region of New York.

Featured Image: Charles Lee, a Falun Gong practitioner, shows a pair of “Homer Simpson” slippers like the ones he made while incarcerated in a Chinese labor camp.  (Courtesy of NTD Television)

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5 Responses

    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      Also, we have, at long last, a true long-distance runner in our modernist environment of miniaturist poetry. In other words, this is truly “la poésie classique” in the grand manner. I would say Hugolian by its taking up a social struggle in the most intimate, and most moving, conceivable way.

  1. Joseph Charles MacKenzie

    It is difficult for me to express my mind’s feelings about this poem. First, we must absolutely commend the use of Poe’s idiomatic form, something which all Americans are deeply familiar with, here in the service of something with which we know almost nothing at all. This very first step, the selection of the Raven stanza form as a vehicle for the content, is alone the work of great genius, not to mention a risk of the kind that only genius is bold enough to take, a risk that results in perfection. In fact, I can say that this poem, in my memory, in my cultural memory, literally replaces The Raven which seems to me at this moment utterly superficial by comparison. Difficult to go on with my thought here without bursting into tears, but I have a far deeper relationship with Mr. Mantyk’s verses here than I do with Poe’s, although the latter was was part of my grammar school education and a fixture of the kind of culture we were all supposed to acquire. Clearly—I think we all have a duty to admit this—this poem surpasses anything in Poe. The next consideration is everything else about it, but I fear that I could go on indefinitely. The gripping irony is profound, as the American reader must call into question the emptiness of his world and weigh it against the world described, only to find, to his horror, that he must question which is worse. As a theologian, I am extremely interested in the anti-penultimate stanza which brings the whole to an entirely new level. This is the most important poem I have read in many, many years. Just when one thinks one has read all that’s left to read… Yes, I can safely use the word “bravura” to describe the technique, but we must never forget the inspiration of the real, the authenticity of the experience, and the turning of the soul upward to heaven. I am bewildered to consider how very much I have to learn, bewildered but also in a state of yearning to transpose the lessons gleaned into my own practice.

  2. Waldeci Erebus

    Message in a Tome

    I came upon an old chateau bathed in a moonlit gloom,
    and entered through its Gothic door into a lofty room.
    I came upon an oval portrait of a somber Age.
    The name recorded on the painting was Earl Dolan Page.
    The visage of the gentleman, dark and ethereal,
    was like the face of one’s interred, premature burial.
    Below the image on a table lay an ebon book,
    the Poet’s corpus whose dark countenance adorned that nook.
    I slowly opened it, and came upon what seemed to be
    a purloined letter hidden there. It was addressed to me.


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