Love During the Cultural Revolution
Bill Wolak is a poet who has just published his third book of poetry entitled Archeology of Light. Recently he has been selected to be a featured reader at the 2011 Kritya International Poetry Festival in Nagpur, India.
During the Cultural Revolution, I wrote a love letter
and was considered a criminal; I composed a love poem
and was persecuted as a counter-revolutionary.
I was arrested for living with my boyfriend outside of wedlock.
After we married, they dumped us way out in the countryside,
domiciled in communes where we were forced to sleep
in gender-segregated barracks without books or music
and with only a single thirty-minute conjugal visit per week.
We rarely even saw each other during those days,
until it was time to undress in that empty, windowless room
under the flickering florescent ceiling lamp.
Every week our bodies grew thinner and thinner
from the disgusting rations with which they starved us
until our bodies were merely bones shrink-wrapped with skin.
When we loved shivering on that hard bed
in that unheated room for our carefully timed
thirty minute session, my husband begged me
to do things to him that I never would have imagined.
But naked under the sheets I pleased him
with whatever part of my body he desired until the abrupt
knocking on the door echoed down the corridor,
and we dressed again in silence without kissing
and tugged back to our separate barracks.
What kept us alive through all those hopeless years of exile
were tiny love tokens we exchanged very carefully
whenever we were allowed to hold each other naked.
These cautiously concealed marks ached for days
and were made with mouth and teeth and nails—
bruises, scratches, and bite marks in hidden places—
the inner thighs, behind the knees or ears,
on the nape of the neck just at the hair line, under armpits
or buttocks or breasts, even cuts that bled for a little while
after we parted, and that later we would kiss like lips.
And these I would touch in the middle of the night
along with my nipples and breasts and clitoris
whenever I needed to summon his face in the mirror of my flesh,
whenever I wanted his body to slide against me like darkness,
whenever I thought I couldn't survive another night alone.