After Occupy2 min read

In poetry, Karen Cheung connects with Hong Kong’s protests


Editor’s Note: On the night of September 26, 2014, students climbed the fence around Civic Square, the patch of land in front of Hong Kong’s government offices, to demand universal suffrage. Thus began two months of citywide sit-ins and protests known both as Occupy Central and the Umbrella Movement, so named for the iconic image of a protester shielding himself from tear gas with an umbrella.
This poem from Karen Cheung’s forthcoming zine, Roses in a Beer Can, weaves the songs and symbols of the protests into the narrative of her absence from them. Cheung writes:
“Whenever fellow journalists trade tales about how they were tear-gassed Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Umbrella Movement in 2014, I feel a mixture of embarrassment, resentment and most of all grief for having missed the protests entirely. It wasn’t until after I read Henry Wei Leung’s Goddess of Democracy: An Occupy Lyric that I was able to forgive myself.”
‘After Occupy’ is not just repentance in free verse, but a meditation on the vitality of Occupy and the void left in its wake. By the time Cheung has absolved herself, the “residue of conflict” has already been scraped off the streets. – Anne Henochowicz


After Occupy

my screen erupted into a grey mist

but my eyes did not water

eight hours and 9562 kilometres away


“pepper sprayed is no credential” the poet wrote,

two years later, same city different protest

i made sure the world knows i was pepper sprayed,


 (for i did not hear the people sing.)


writers wrote books about umbrellas

filmmakers made films about yellowing

scholars published papers about democracy


 (for “nothing we did could have saved” -)


please take me to admiralty,

i begged the taxi driver

one week too late in december:


no ribbons, no banners, no residue of conflict;

the site and the stories of seven million people

both expired after 79 days.


“too local,” they ruled,

even when i key the bespectacled boy

into the headline.


it is not cool to speak of occupy anymore,

a localist told me:

a failure, a romanticization, a left plastic’s dream;


 (i am quietly relieved.)


the journalists, the diaspora, the protesters

have left us

for china, for home, for better causes;


(but i am still here, that’s what counts, they say.) ∎


“After Occupy” appears in Karen Cheung’s forthcoming zine, Roses in a Beer Can. Featured image by Chet Wong and used under Creative Commons license.