Building the Great Wall

Stephanie Han


There are bodies, selves we cast aside to build the Great Wall.
Our home crumbled; we shored up our stake.
Tiles, dirt, glass, sticks, the rubble of new lives.
A pig’s head. A porcelain tub. A bicycle. A golf club.
Cleaning and clearing soil, boulder after boulder,
week after week, month after month, year after year.

Digging a hole to China nearly killed us.
Nuance foiled. Poetry lost.
Foul water gallon gulped.
Dollars grabbed on bruised knees.
Foreign bodies, invasive species,
earth does not discern,
reptiles come in every shade.
We screamed, cautioned our child, starched, ironed clothes,
but poison shot through our veins.
At the free clinic the doctor said it was no emergency,
with air conditioning, everything is fine.

Great Walls rise on sorrow’s wrinkles, tiger cub egos,
pictogram drama. Slavery? An emperor’s whim.
Gates weaken, parapets crumble. Hoards enter, depart.
We are them. They are us.

Climb to be a Great Man?
We buried our lives to watch these walls rise!
Bones haunt the garden.
Astronauts spoke, but the myth remains:
The Great Wall is seen from the moon.


Walls are sandy tombs trickling down thin-necked bottles
grain by grain into Chinas we all know.
Photographs of ancestors, sorrow and sweat,
Phoenixes and steel cranes, pink dolphins.
Death by Disney.
Extinction in a dirty sea.
This Middle Kingdom, a centre that cannot hold.
Monsters lurk beyond a pancake edge,
stalwart sailors refuse to swim, fear dragons that haunt seas.


Desires scale Great Walls, ascend link by link,
grab vines beyond sticky mud mist
Our smoggy fevers break sewage lines and the corpse rot of papayas.
Frangipani strokes cheeks, flesh falls from bones we spit to the ground,
crumbling, crumbling, to our end.
Building, building to keep us in, to keep us out.

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Stephanie Han has been published in Feminist Studies Journal, Origins Literary Journal, and the Anthology of New Asian Short Stories by Silverfish Books, among others. Follow her on Twitter.