Yi Sha 伊沙 poetry translations

Six Poems by Yi Sha 伊沙

Translated by Michael M. Day (June 2007)

The Chinese Sense of Reality Comes from an Unimaginably Powerful Actuality


The necessary connection’s found

The necessary cash doled out

But the friend’s loan

Is yet to be granted

The reason’s quickly uncovered

The bird sent to the bank manager

Was two hours late

Burning with impatience

He’d taken Viagra

And his golden gun wouldn’t fall

Just bluntly sticking out there

A burning desire

Idly wasting away

Dry wood and a raging flame

Ultimately reduced to a single shot

And a fury

That can only be resolved by revenge

And so nothing was done

“Just because of this?”

“Just because of this!”

The friend’s calm

Makes me ashamed

Of my shock

As a writer

I’m ignorant of reality

And if I write it as it is

Afraid even more ignorant readers

Will shout “beat the fraud”

Portrait of a Scandinavian Poet (一个北欧诗人的画像)


His bearing when he sings is that of an Italian

When he drinks he’s physically gone and mentally there like a Russian alky

Yet he’s pure Aryan

An out-and-out Swedish poet

Occasionally—but only occasionally

He’s had notions of moving to Norway

The salary this neighboring land pays writers

Is ten times that of his


It’s said he’s the number three poet in Sweden

That in his prime

His portrait was everywhere

On the walls of the Metro in Stockholm

This spring, he came to Kunming

And in a rooftop Chinese garden

He issues a warning to Chinese colleagues

“Beware Romanticism”

He says: “I’m a bit pessimistic about Chinese poetry”

But quickly adds: “Two three years ago”


The day of recitations at the poetry festival

He spends reclining in a hotel room

Conserving energy as he reverently awaits

The arrival of the rite of a poet’s life

At dusk in a mini-van on its way to the venue

He treats everyone to cocktails

Decocted from strawberry juice and Chinese spirits

Of course he drinks the most

That evening the recital is well received

And that night

His efforts to get us into a bar

Get no response


The next day at breakfast

In the notepad of the female group-leader

He draws the lifelike figure of a female nude

We feel immediate relief

So! He wants some of that

After thinking it through all night

A slapdash Chinese poetry critic surmises

“It’s a metaphor—he wants bread”

Later we finally figure it out

He wanted coffee and the companion too


I’m arranged to be at an outside venue

Following the leisurely notes of an ancient zither

During my recital in the “Collection Among the Flowers”[1] teahouse

His performance in the audience

Especially catches the eye

He grins like an idiot

His look when not smiling

Also over the top

When he asks for a book of my poetry

I’ve just given away the last copy


A well-intentioned older Chinese lady

Notices he doesn’t change shirts during the week

He’ll first go to Thailand on the way back to Sweden

Leading to knowing laughs from the men

On that last night

I don’t even have time to say goodbye

He seems like a phantom

As he slips into an outside bar

And I see no more of him

But now I remember

The night we stayed at the Stone Forest

While he hovered

Over a pretty Thai girl flirtatious as a snake

He’d also seemed something of a ghost

Refused a Visa at the US Embassy


The entire morning

A hundred people crowd into a smallish hall

As if crammed into the hold of a border-running boat

Among those languishing in boredom awaiting a visa

A pretty student of ballet

Becomes the greatest beauty spot in the place

Before seeing the consular officer

I’m already a bit hollowed out

As I see among those who’ve received visas

There’re practically no healthy young men

Just the two

An oldster with his wife

And a midget who doesn’t come up to the window

The US is scared

Really scared

Now they’re frightened of men

Wah-kao! This bearded official

Who looks more like a Muslim

More of a terrorist

Than me

Without a moment’s hesitation

Resolutely rejects my application

Could this be one orangutan begrudging another

At a glance espying a deep-seated

Ill-will in my eyes

Immigration threats

Exhibit such signs

So, the Tang Dynasty’s Li Bai wants to emigrate to Persia

Don’t you crack fucking international jokes with me

As I stalk off

The pretty student of ballet

Is rejected by a black woman at another window

And she’s really happy like a duckling straining to fly

Leaving the place chirping for joy

Somebody in the line makes the proper determination

“For sure her parents were making her go to America……”

The Melancholy of Vietnam



Rain strikes plantains

I see no tears fall

Only these wet still-lifes

Left behind

Vietnam is melancholy


Late at night

In a movie by Chen Yingxiong

I discover

A melancholy Vietnam

Remembering the rain falling

On the screens of the black-and-white films

Deep in my memory


In a long poem I once wrote:

“Is war truly romantic

She looks good posing with the gun

As if playing a harp”


Writing about a Vietnamese beauty

Who saddens me


I want to verify the melancholy

Of Vietnam with a friend

Who’s been to Vietnam

But I just think about it

My friend

Is not melancholic

But the crux of it is he’s

Not a person capable of sensing sorrow


Speaking of “south of the clouds”[2]

Vietnam is the south of this south of the clouds

It’s the frontier of the land of clouds

And beneath the clouds

A great river rushes to the sea


Some have taken this as a metaphor

For a moist vagina

The beauty of it is: America

This cock that pokes into everything

Suffered a rupture here

And since then this self-important man

Suffers serious sexual dysfunction

Like Ernest Hemingway


How could I dare belittle

The men here

Only using their militia to leave so many

Of my compatriots in graves on hillside after hillside[3]

That was entirely down to us

I’m not saying “a righteous army is bound to win”

I want to say: A melancholy man

Is the bravest soldier


Vietnam is melancholy

Rain strikes plantains

I see no tears fall

Only these wet still-lifes

Left behind

The Death of Arafat


“I’m fed up with this seeming immortal

who looks like a leper

who as soon as he makes an appearance

is a guarantee of chaos in Palestine and Israel

Dead, not dead, waiting to die

On the night the definitive news of Arafat’s death

Finally came through from Paris

I thought of an old friend

A few years earlier

On a private occasion

Discussing with me

Views and feelings about this political figure

And the opinions of this friend—

Were without standpoint

Without illumination

Without conscience

Without sympathy




Without lungs

And are remembered by me over ten years later

Only because they were imbued by

A resonance aroused by

A true sense of reality

And the exceptional vibrancy of his language

(as a poet

isn’t this the sort of

language I seek)

The remains of Arafat

Are shipped to his homeland and interred

All I can do is

Dig out these words stockpiled in the brain

And bury them in a flowerpot on my sundeck

Stutterer (结结巴巴)

St- st- stuttering my mouth

A sec- sec- second-class disability

Can’t get teeth into my wh- wh- wildly racing thoughts

Or my legs

You all sl- sl- slobber everyplace

Dispersing a moldy smell

Mm- mm- my lungs

So overworked

I want to br- br- break through

Your in- in- inexplicable


Is in urgent need of a breakthrough

Mm- mm- my

My words

Sp- sp- spit out like a machine gun

Are greatly gratifying

St- st- stuttering my life

Nn- nn- no ghosts in my life

You lo- lo- look at me

A look that says I’ve nothing to say

[1] The oldest extant anthology of classical song lyrics, compiled by the Five Dynasties poet Ouyang Jiong (896-971), a resident of Chengdu, Sichuan Province.

[2] A reference to the province of Yunnan, the name of which also translates as “south of the clouds”.

[3] A reference to the PRC’s 1979 military incursion into northern Vietnam.