“Up Against the Walls” and “The Social Life of Bricks” by Ilaria Maria Sala

Two Poems
by Ilaria Maria Sala


Do the walls talk, where you are now? 
Do they scream? 
Do they burst out with exclamation marks?
Or maybe they are silenced, like ours?

I often wonder if you can understand me
If you can understand all of us
As we are here, up against the walls
Letting our eyes glide on their silenced surface, ashamed

Last year in my city—just last year—
We heard the voice of our walls
They started shouting at night and 
So many words tumbled out of their flatness

Like they had waited all this time 
After everything else had been attempted
People marched, chanted, wrote and even voted
It all went unheard

So the walls took over
Everywhere you looked they carried slogans, for months 
And jokes, too—who knew walls were so funny!
That’s before the thick coat of paint 

When nobody is watching I move my fingers on the smudged words
A painted surface covers them, suffocating like a plastic sheet
Hiding what was. It’s the same between you and I. 
I took photos. I have the memories. And a record of the lies that silenced everything

Then they sent out teams with thick grey paint
Maybe as they brushed it on they were agreeing with the words they erased
They covered them with such a clear and loud mark, like a call:
“Here, once, the walls said what the city thought”


Look at all those little gates
We tripped over each other to rush online
Wanting to baptise them
Stonehenge in Hong Kong

Look, all the little brick gates
Standing straight up on the road
On Queen’s Road
On Pedder Street
On Des Vœux Road
A previous monarch of ours
A conquering lieutenant
And the 10th Colonial Governor of Hong Kong

We stretch our necks from above
Looking down at bricks
We count the ones standing up right
Three by three in formation, out of their sockets
No longer meeting the soles of our shoes

Look, the little walls of dug out bricks
A flimsy defence for an unequal war
A barricade a barrier a provocation a desperation
A weapon a scar an irreparable wound

It’s been three years since bricks
In Hong Kong
Are a new type of bricks
They got thrown
They got glued to the pavement
They got pulled up
They got hurled down
They are dots on the roads they once paved
They are what we know we can never forget

Little gates like stunned soldiers
Standing in line
Dug up and broken and now
Sitting in front of the cameras on our phones
The latest surprise now
The social life of bricks

How to cite: Sala, Ilaria Maria. “Two Poems: “Up Against the Walls” and “The Social Life of Bricks”.” Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, 31 Aug. 2020, hkprotesting.com/2020/08/31/bricks/.

Photograph © Oliver Farry.

Ilaria Maria Sala was born in Italy, grew up in Bologna and Florence, and now lives in Hong Kong, where she writes about Hong Kong and China. She studied at the School of Oriental and African Studies, Beijing Normal University, and Beijing University. She is a winner of the Bruce Chatwin Award for travel literature for Il Dio dell’Asia: Religione e Politica in Oriente: Un Reportage, a book of travel features about religion. Her articles can be found in the Guardian, at Hong Kong Free Press, and ChinaFile, among other places. She has published poetry and reviews in Cha: An Asian Literary Journal. Ilaria is a Vice President of PEN Hong Kong.

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