I wrote this poem in Feb. 2008, after the NY Philharmonic’s historic concert at the newly opened Performing Arts Center in Beijing. The musician’s bus travelled through Tiananmen Square, past Mao’s tomb.
Tour bus hums through the empty square
shrouded in shadows
Mao’s crypt sits forlornly in the night.
Motionless among the delirious eruptions of Capital that criss-cross the skyline
he silently bears witness to a surreal mix of the forbidden city and equity markets.
(A sadness grips me knowing he lies alone.
I wonder if he turns over, shakes off his red cover,
if his rouged cheeks blush harder with the confusion and absurdity of the moment.)
By day, peasants from across the land wrap round and round his resting place
a simple people, hard working and humble
toiling for little, investing everything for a better future
they mingle in the mall with tourists from Omaha and Waco.
Tonight the people crowd into the tiny concert hall
a titanium space ship landed on Tiananmen
a beautiful, alien cultural machine settling in, beckoning with free tickets for all
Quiet men in sweaters and zippered jackets clap politely, then warming to the music, smile broadly;
small children wave at the stage,
the timpani’s energetic wands signal back a western hello.
later, bundled onto their tour bus, oboists, strings and percussion wind through cavernous, empty streets;
a young thin man in uniform presses against his epaulets, standing watch under a red star
And Mr. Mao, I imagine,
strains to the sounds of Ravel and Brahms
tapping out the syncopated rhythms of this strange leap forward.
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