To Lu Xun, From The Iron House

A poem by Rob Schackne


Locked inside the iron house

Seventeen others are snoring

There are no windows anywhere

No ventilation means we’re dying

(Getting sleepy too, I’ll lie down soon)

We have attempted the Big Breakout

We have filled our bodies with blood

We have hammered and screamed for it

It? I mean of course we went for our lives

Like threshing machines, no help for it

No one from outside came to our rescue

No friends, no lovers, no family came

Though at one point we imagined voices

Crying a strange word that sounded like KEEZ

Which we all stripped buck naked for

Which we shook our dictionaries for

Which we questioned the waiting children for

And we looked deep into each other’s eyes.

© 2013 Rob Schackne

Editor's note: If you didn't get it, this poem references a famous metaphor of Lu Xun's, from the preface to his story collection Call to Arms, in which Lu Xun says of chaotic early republic China:

Imagine an iron house without windows, absolutely indestructible, with many people fast asleep inside who will soon die of suffocation. But you know since they will die in their sleep, they will not feel the pain of death. Now if you cry aloud to wake a few of the lighter sleepers, making those unfortunate few suffer the agony of irrevocable death, do you think you are doing them a good turn?