there are stars in their caps, soldiers
crouched as if the revolution
only walks at knee level. before them, a sea 

of students: one adjusting his glasses, his face 
turned towards some invisible turmoil, 
this refusal that could bring everything 

tomorrow or simply life. or simply 
bullets slicing the Square, shouts 
& fears running & running into bodies

that ripple 
onto concrete 
like children 

napping under Beijing sun, 
eyelids still as peace—          still
as red pooling, as ink

resisting its meaning—           resisting
the fist of a government crushing ambitions
into pennies 

while a single protestor, white 
shirt tucked in like my father 
wears to church, stands 

before a tank 
the way one stands 
before god:

where it moves, he moves. 
where he stands, it stops. 

man & machine dancing, 
carrier bag swinging from his left 
hand, the other one raised as if

he were hailing a cab, having just 
purchased books for the semester, a pack 
of calligraphy paper & an album 

by John Denver, who my immigrant father 
first heard in China in 1979, Denver’s twang 
blaring across campus, in the halls, on the streets, ringing

through every child’s freedom dream—
so almost-heaven that my father, 
upon hearing the news, eats 

his oatmeal in silence, watches
the spoon’s craters disappear
into mush and the clouds

that float over Arizona 
desert, how they divide light 
from the road.

Copyright © 2024 by Marisa Lin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 16, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets.