• Poems

    Jianqing Zheng: Four Poems

    Jianqing Zheng

    The Chained Woman

    A case of human trafficking and ill-treatment exposed to light in 2022 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xuzhou_chained_woman_incident)

    What must be chained
    to the neck & locked
    in that dirty hut
    are devils of cruelty,
    barren fields of moral illiteracy,
    cold faces of idiocy,
    & dumb heads of vacuity
    that show human apathy
    in a land with a long history
    of civilization.


    The World Has Changed

    Give an eye

    to the breathing sun & moon,
    to the hugging sky & earth,
    to the shifting continents,
    to the creeping magma & lava,
    to the gazing stars & ghosts,

    to the tugging war & peace,
    to the dying children & the savaging killers,
    to the crying sympathy & the smirking absurdity,
    to the silent desperation & the exploding bombshells,
    to the dream never realized & the reality never dreamed.

    Give an eye & see
    the change is turning desperately
    like a gyre.



    The Apron Blues

    after Eudora Welty’s photograph “A Slave’s Apron Showing Souls in Progress to Heaven or Hell”

    O, Lord, we have been working
    all our lives from sunup to sundown
    in planters’ kitchens and cotton fields.

    O, Lord, our pains and sufferings
    have sharpened our eyes, coarsened
    our hands and strengthened our legs.

    O, Lord, our souls are faithful,
    voices graceful and dreams beautiful,
    and we work hard for nothing bagful.

    O, Lord, where shall our souls go?
    To heaven or hell? Will the journey
    be too long to overcome?

    O, Lord, are you listening silently
    to our quest for the promised land?



    Grandpa was beaten to death when the Cultural Revolution broke out. After his remains were cremated, Dad brought home the urn and placed it before Grandpa’s serious-looking portrait. We bowed and sobbed. Grandpa was a history teacher, denounced as a reactionary for disloyalty to Chairman Mao because he refused to group dance for the great helmsman’s longevity.

    autumn gust
    memories spiral up
    into choking dust

    Grandpa was locked in a dank cell at his school and often taken to the rallies where insane radicals, colleagues, and Red Guards raised their fists and shouted hysterically, “Down with him!” Those Red Guards, who were his students, pressed his head down before the Mao poster, punched him in the chest, kicked his legs to make him kneel, and forced him to say he was an anti, but he clenched his teeth. Beaten for two hours by the savage beasts, Grandpa fell to death, face deformed and ribs all broken. No one was blamed, no one was arrested, no one was guilty about what they did in the lawless time.

    violent death
    a yellow leaf falls
    on the wet ground
    covered soon
    by the darkness

    Yesterday was Grandpa’s death day. I went to see him—his grave looked stoic in autumn wind. Kneeling before his stone, I burned incense, wishing the ruthless age would never return like a rough beast to suck the blood of civilization. I never forget his death day because it’s like a scar remaining thick.

    heat mirage
    Mao’s mausoleum
    a rocking cradle


    Jianqing Zheng‘s poetry has recently appeared in Birmingham Poetry Review, Mississippi Review, Hawaii Pacific Review, and New World Writing Quarterly. His poetry awards include artist fellowships from Mississippi Arts Commission and Gerald Cable Book Prize.