Chairman Mao Knows Best
Don’t let them rest, Baba said.
We banged our cymbals together.
The din hurt my ears, but the grown-ups
didn’t want the sparrows to rest.
My brother pretended his arms ached.
He told me everyone was being ridiculous
like the characters in the Western fairy tale
who thought the Emperor was wearing clothes
even though he was naked
and they praised his outfit, trying to outdo each other.
Chairman Mao said the sparrows had to die.
They ate our crops and were as undesirable as rats.
Baba wanted us to kill more sparrows
than anyone else in the community could,
even more than our neighbors who had larger families
and took turns staying up at night
so that the birds wouldn’t get any rest.
Watching the exhausted sparrows stop flying
and drop to the ground,
my heart hurt more than my ears.
I wish we didn’t have to
kill the innocent birds, I said.
Baba said, Chairman Mao knows best.
Auntie Hua’s Hair
Auntie Hua was more proud of her hair
than she was of her three sons.
She wouldn’t cut her hair off for Mao.
Once when I peeked,
I saw her husband comb her hair,
patiently tackling the tangles
until a tame black stream covered her back.
I couldn’t understand why women
couldn’t wear their hair long anymore,
but at least chopping off hair
was kinder then aiming a pellet gun
at winged creatures.
The Red Guards were furious at her
when they flung her cap to the ground.
They chopped, chopped the strands
of her hair so that they hung unevenly
below her earlobes.
Tears leaked and ran down her pale cheeks.
Auntie Hua tried to save her fine porcelain,
including a valuable Ming vase.
Sell it please and use the money, she begged.
The Red Guards flung the vase to the ground.
The little pieces broke my heart,
though not as much as the sight
of the dead sparrows.
The Red Guards burned her husband’s books.
I cried as the smoke came into my eyes,
but the tears flowed faster when I thought about
the thousands of dead sparrows.
My uncle wouldn’t be able to read
Charles Dickens and Jane Austen
and translate their works to our family again.
Not because those copies became ashes
but because he’d die of a stroke that evening.
My uncle cried when they cut Auntie Hua’s hair.
When the Red Guards weren’t looking,
he tucked a lock into his pocket.
They didn’t even let him say goodbye to Auntie Hua
when they took him away,
but he carried his most precious treasure with him.
Tara Menon: "I am an Indian-American writer based in Lexington, Massachusetts. The following journals and anthologies have published my poetry: Emrys Journal Online, Infection House, The Inquisitive Eater, The Tiger Moth Review, Blue Minaret, Yearning to Breathe Free: Poetry from the Immigrant Community, The Bangalore Review, voices of eve, Calliope, Lalitamba, Azizah Magazine, aaduna, Yellow as Turmeric, Fragrant as Cloves, The Taj Mahal Review, the view from here, and 10x3 plus poetry. I am also a book reviewer whose pieces have appeared in many journals. My latest fiction is forthcoming in Evening Street Review."