THEY FELL LIKE RAIN
China 1958: as part of the Great Leap Forward campaign to preserve grain by destroying pests, four million sparrows were killed. Two years later, when locusts invaded, thirty million people starved to death.
A peoples’ farm collective in a country
rich with jade is the setting for this picture,
an unsettling act of war. A multitude
of peasants who are absent
from this scene toil endlessly in umber fields
of grain: tilling, hoeing, picking, packing
bags of treasure: sacks of precious rice.
In the background of the painting, strung
all across the scene, tree-sized heaps
resembling hills— lifeless
lumps of clay. With deft
exquisite brush strokes, hues of blue
and black, the artist has depicted hills
of dead and dying birds.
Children in the foreground
armed with dim grey pots and pans,
caught banging clanging
in a screaming screeching frenzy,
chasing sparrows, breaking eggs,
destroying pests for Chairman Mao.
Pigtails drooping, one small child looks out from
darkly solemn eyes, with hands outstretched
her body bent above
that of a dying bird.
But, on her shoulder, firmly planted,
an older sibling’s grim command
—Continue with your task.