My Youth Machine-rolled, Smoked to Its Stub

Tales of my youth are a big hit at parties.


The arrest—cops cleaving

me to their sedan. 

Caught red-handed, skin

of newsprint bearing the image

of a living Mao

laid tenderly

on a metal pole.

Then the cell, its plain cavity.

The beefy women in uniform

watching me bathe 

through a slit.


I forget to mention

the bulb that buzzed

above the narrow cell cot

shredding my brain

into a bell jar

of worms, the best of them

lacking all conviction.

Or a ceiling stain the shape

of a slow sob.


Outside the prison gates, headlines

waited like friends who knew me

as a child: “Comrade _______

Valiantly Defies Fascist Police…”

and so on.  The quicksand

of celebrity, how important

I must be. The next 8 years 

a fugue of factory jobs,

the Chairman’s words, a chain

of smokes in my pocket.


Decades later, Mao’s

personal physician reported

the Chairman had enjoyed

after a dip in the Yangtse to bathe

in the vaginal fluids of virgins. 

He shared with Marlon Brando

a grotesque eating disorder, and a taste

for servile foreign women.   I had always

liked Marlon, too; his sensitive mouth.

© Leanne Averbach