Poetry: Tank Man Before Execution by Samantha Hsiung

“There’s so much negative space / in this room, Ma,” laments the speaker in Samantha Hsiung’s “Tank Man Before Execution,” then proceeds to deftly complicate the negative space of the poem. In a lyric reimagining both elegiac and defiant, this poem gives voice to an unidentified speaker, and through a caesura-ridden address, mirrors the strain of a life against multiple forms of erasure–by the state, by the status of “symbol,” by the slow disintegration of memory.

Tank Man Before Execution

On June 5, 1989—a day after the Chinese government violently fired on citizens protesting in Tiananmen Square—a Chinese man stood in front a column of military tanks leaving Tiananmen Square. He became a symbol of hope and courage in the face of authoritarianism and was nicknamed “Tank Man.” His identity remains unknown.

Samantha Hsiung

Samantha Hsiung is an Asian American writer. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Diode, Red Wheelbarrow, and Movable Type, among others. She has been recognized by the Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald Museum, Hollins University, Columbia College Chicago, and more. Besides writing, she enjoys fencing, reading, and playing the piano.

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