One of the more creative and moving responses to the Olympics in China this year is a poem relay, initiated by writers and members of International PEN. The poem June, was written by Shi Tao, who is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence for sending to pro democracy websites a government directive for Chinese media to downplay the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests.

You may recall in 2004 Shi Tao was identified when Yahoo! turned over his email account to the authorities. Charged with “illegally providing state secrets to foreign entities,” Shi Tao now faces the next decade in prison. His poem June is his memorial of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

By Shi Tao
My whole life
Will never get past “June”
June, when my heart died
When my poetry died
When my lover
Died in romance’s pool of blood
June, the scorching sun burns open my skin
Revealing the true nature of my wound
June, the fish swims out of the blood-red sea
Toward another place to hibernate
June, the earth shifts, the rivers fall silent
Piled up letters unable to be delivered to the dead.

(translated by Chip Rolley)

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Unity of Opposites: an LA Story

I’m driving into Los Angeles from the airport thinking about unity of opposites. I haven’t been back to LA in several years. I used to live here. Every time I return, I fall back in love with the city, with the sun and the blue skies and the bougainvillea and other flowers, the palm trees and the ocean in the distance. I can’t see the ocean from the 405 freeway, but I know it’s there.

I raised my children here until they were 9 and 11 when we moved to London, England. In the beginning, however, when I first moved to LA reluctantly from New York City, I looked for and found all the stereotypes I brought with me. We landed in our New York suits and jackets and went straight from the airport to Venice beach, where adults were roller skating by the ocean in the middle of a work day. “How can we live here?” I asked my husband, “It’s not serious enough.”

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