The Bathtub – Scene of a Struggle, by Han Dong
Fifty years this month, May 1966, saw the launch of the Cultural Revolution. Read Paper Republic commemorates it with a poem, a child's eye view of a violent event.
Han Dong, influential avant-garde poet, once said that poetry's "highest purpose is to be without purpose." His poems are anti-heroic and often have a "willed superficiality", yet can also be lyrical and startlingly intimate. The Bathtub refers to an incident described in more detail in Han Dong’s novel 《扎根》 , translated as Banished: A Novel, by Nicky Harman. To young Tao, the Cultural Revolution, “meant fun and indescribable excitement”, but he also senses an underlying, fearful tension: “The next day young Tao and a friend stole off with an older boy, the son of a neighbor, to see the armed struggle. …. Finally, they got to a three-story building with a lawn in front. There was nothing there and not a sound to be heard. Upstairs the windows were half open; young Tao realized that none of them had any glass in them. The older boy said that the armed strugglers had broken all the glass. …They discovered the lawn was covered with shiny bits of glass. Something white and round reflected the afternoon sunlight. Young Tao thought at first it was a naked human body, but when he got close, he saw it was a bathtub. The bathtub had broken in two and lay huge and glaringly white on the brilliant green grass. Obviously it had been thrown from the window. The person who had thrown it must have been awfully strong, thought young Tao, as strong as a giant.”
The Bathtub – Scene of a Struggle
A white bathtub lies on a patch of green grass,
A dark window, its glass shattered, gapes above.
The bathtub was thrown down from there.
How strong do you have to be, to lift a bathtub
High in the air and hurl it through the window?
…he imagined a bathtub-throwing monster
The bigger boy thinks of a girl
Sitting, naked, in the bathtub.
The brilliant white bathtub reposes on the grass
A terrible, full curvature…
The smaller boy gives the other one a tug
The big boy grasps his little brother’s hand
They walk on.
Glass shards glint in the window above.