1425 c/o Rebecca Perry


There were guards dotted along the border like buttons.
The border was a red line an inch or two thick.
The red was the red of traffic lights;
the traffic lights all said stop, so did the line.
The line was painted straight onto the pavement.
The pavement was light grey on one side,
that grey was the colour of pencil lead;
the pavement on the other side was dark grey,
that grey was the colour of wet elephants.

The guards wore black uniforms, they had guns.
The uniforms were trimmed with big silver buttons,
the silver buttons shone like teeth in the moonlight.
The guns were small, the size of a hand.
The guards walked along the line, they never crossed.
They walked at the speed of slow-running water.
They had one job only, the guards,
that job was to keep Nanjing the same size.
That size was the biggest city in the world.

They came at night, when the guards swapped.
The guards swapped at 3am.
3am was the darkest and the quietest time.
The darkness hid them; them in their black tops,
them with their soft black shoes.
Those black shoes toed the red line, crossed it.
The hands with black gloves glued silver coins
to the pavement, coins embossed with ‘Beijing’.
They glued the coins onto the red line, they covered it.

In this way Beijing grew at 3am every day;
it eeked over the red line by a square foot each night.
Those feet, over time, became a whole square mile
and that metal mile made all the difference.
The red line had to be redrawn around the coins,
jagged like a dinosaur’s back. The Nanjing guards
ripped their buttons off and threw them in with the coins.
Conceding, swapping sides, wanting to be part,
as they always had been, of the biggest city in the world.