Tang Yaping 唐亚平 poetry translations

The Poetry of Tang Yaping 唐亚平

Selections: 1983 – 1995

Tang Yaping was born 1962 in Tongjiang County, Sichuan province. She graduated from the Philosophy Department of the University of Sichuan in Chengdu in 1983, and has been working in the editorial department of the Guizhou Province Television Station in Guiyang, Southwest China, since 1984. Prior to her departure from Sichuan, Tang befriended the woman poet Zhai Yongming, and her subsequent poetry bespeaks Zhai’s influence and that of Sylvia Plath, whose translated poetry was then circulating on China’s unofficial poetry scene. The poetry series followed shortly after and made Tang well-known throughout the poetry scene in China as part of the flood of woman’s poetry that was subsequently termed “The Black Tornado”.

1) To Conquer [征服]

2) Hey, Water Wheel, Don't Tell Our Story [水车呦,别讲我们的故事]

3) One Hundred Roses [一百朵玫瑰]

4) I'm a Waterfall [我就是瀑布]

5) An Autumn Flower will not Wither and Fall [秋天的花是不会凋谢的]

6) The Black Desert [黑色沙漠]

I. The Black Night: A Prefatory Poem [黑夜:序诗]

II. The Black Swamp [黑色沼泽]

III. Black Tears [黑色眼泪]

IV. Black Hesitation [黑色犹豫]

V. Black Gold [黑色金子]

VI. The Black Cave [黑色洞穴]

VII. The Black Nightgown [黑色睡裙]

VIII. The Black Nightgown [黑色睡裙]

IX. The Black Stone [黑色石头]

X. Black Frosted Snow [黑色霜雪]

XI. The Black Turtle [黑色乌龟]

XII. The Black Night: Poem as Postscript [黑夜:跋诗]

7) I Want a Son [我要一个儿子]

8) The Hausfrau [主妇]

9) The Mirror [镜子]

10) An Absent-minded Noontime [走神的正午]

11) A Confession [自白]

12) Unexpected Scenery [意外的风景]

13) How do You do It [你怎么下手]

14) A Zombie [行尸]

15) A Performance of Death [死亡的表演]

16) Metaphysical Scenery #8 [形而上的风景]

17) Metaphysical Scenery #10 [形而上的风景]

18) Metaphysical Scenery #1 [形而上的风景]

19) A Confession [自白]

20) Tired, Dozing Off [困顿]

21) A Mirror Game [镜子游戏]

22) The Mirror and the Brush [镜子与笔]

23) The Mirror and the Flower [镜子与花朵]

24) The Belle of the West Shi Clan [美女西施]

To Conquer [征服] 1983

Aside from pure men and impure women

nobody can conquer me

Except for love from the heart and hatred off the tongue

no one can win me

And so I stand

like a horse a cow and a bird

open like a street a shop a square

And so I'm alive

living for every man and woman

alive for every senior and child

My goodness is the golden desert

my love the moonlit sea

my hate a sheer precipice

Aside from pure women and impure men

nobody can win me

Except for watchdogs and wanderers

no one can conquer me

Hey, Water Wheel, Don't Tell Our Story [水车呦,别讲我们的故事] 1984

What can those square meters of apartment units and tall buildings

hold? Perhaps they're incapable of encompassing

one of our simple folk songs. Only the earth is boundless

with our joys and toils

Rough wind-beaten sunburnt skin, of one color

with the dirt. Kiss my forehead, as you would

kiss the dirt; drink the tears on my cheeks

as the sun drinks dry dew drops on the grain, its seed, by the stream

the water wheel turning day and night, quickly ends the telling

our ancestor's story, and our story -- please don't

tell it any more, we ourselves will write in on the earth

Corn and grain, potatoes and soybeans are

our words, during future seasons of transplanting seedlings

the sluice we fix will bubble and declaim.

One Hundred Roses [一百朵玫瑰] 1984

A hundred mornings weep for me in spring

and grow into a hundred autumn dusks

The sword is the longest path A hundred roses will not comfort the grave

I wish to slumber through a hundred winters in your embrace

a child, tired of running

only you can tolerate my world of reveries

and allow the rhythm of my heart to find peace

Hugged deep into sleep in your embrace I change into a hundred babes

in your embrace, arching on the rise and fall of your chest drawing in your body heat

I'm a child weary of bitter tears

only your kiss can drink my tear drops down

giving me the deep ease of an ancient well

For a hundred years I want to sleep in the deep of your embrace

change into a hundred naked women and a hundred roses

in your embrace brew strong liquor and hot blood to choke me

I'm a lonely child weary of my ripening

only your reckless rhythm quickens the height of my pride and confidence

I'm a Waterfall [我就是瀑布]

I lead the mountain people to become a waterfall to break free of heavy constraints

on the precipice I spread the wild liquid wind in the name of the vastness

I open wide the vocal chords of the universe of the whole high plateau

in the name of the passions and aspirations contained by the mountains

I moan over the high plateau's massive silence and its thick pain

of the whole high plateau I sing nature and imagination

On the edge of deep sleep and dreams

I'm a waterfall cutting off rivers of darkness

I become a wild naked woman

nobody dares approach me no one dare possess me

thunderbolts dare not flash their power wild winds do not dare provoke

goshawks don't dare flaunt and clouds dare not make up to me

I'm a woman grief and indignation maddens

I scorn the sky I scorn the sun the moon the sea

I scorn soundless strength and thought

I'm the bold wife of a hundred thousand mountains woman of the high plateau

my grief is the indignant high plateau's

my agony and constraints those of the whole plateau

I sing praise of the height and tragedies moving over every part of the plateau

but the plateau does not move

Everlasting sturdy and composed

after the fierce commotions it comforts me

lying quiet in a deep dark gorge

I wake up clear and bright surrounded by upside down images of mountains

all day and all night I gaze up at them

until they have become tall sturdy men

become a verdant karst forest on the karst plateau

with stubborn love its twisted roots and gnarled branches

pierce the limestone suture canyons sew up faults

I'm rearing to go

I can't wait to suckle them on the milk of a waterfall

won't tolerate a century of sloth and hesitation

I'm the equal of red dirt

I have a desire to make A desire to bear fruit that won't stop

I like the high plateau

I have a cause a lofty duty

I'm a woman of the plateau

I'm unable to tolerate a thousand years of losses or a dull attitude

Perfect as the sun the plateau's grandeur and magnificence I dare

to give up everything give up everything

Growing lush from stones mountain folk sturdy as a forest

I dare to conquer all conquer all

An Autumn Flower will not Wither and Fall [秋天的花是不会凋谢的]

How I want to call out these wild flower's names

they always smile at me

even when the coldest winds blow

even during the most distressing time of autumn

Today I lie in the bosom of the blossoms

for the first time I know autumn is warm

my dreamland full of bright flowers too

Autumn blooms do not flower for fruit alone

nor do I come to autumn for fruit alone

In the dream I smiled

when I wake I'll go on smiling

Because it doesn't blossom for the fruit alone

one autumn flower will not wither, fall

The Black Desert [黑色沙漠] (A sequence of 12 poems) 1985

The Black Night: A Prefatory Poem [黑夜:序诗]

Black nights involuntarily flow from my eyes

the outward flow of black nights leaves me homeless

in a patch of pitch black I become a goddess wandering in the night

aureoles in the night mist swarm to me

that rich ambiguous color leads my heart and soul to an understanding

All colors find a home in the black night and get on well together

the goddess wandering in the night is a sad anxious thing of rare beauty

has the body of a snake and in her paws the fleshy pad of a cat

has a sly wit that dodges the cock crow

What is it that I really want to do I walk in a massive night

I want to change myself into a shadow of flesh and blood

I want to cavort in all the shadows as if awake as if asleep

truly a beauty rare beauty rare thing

I seem to be draped in black gauze that whips up a night wind

I am so natural light adrift aflutter

In the night everything will turn into the shadows of the unreal

even skin flesh, blood and bones all are black

unexplainable inexplicable ineffable

the shadow of the sky and sea is black night too

The Black Swamp [黑色沼泽]

Nightfall is a time of haze

this god awful weather raises doubts in dogs so easily

I always doubt the gods and ghosts Always unsettled in my seat or where I am standing

My long hair streaming flies up The desire of the black night is to overcome

My desire is a boundless pitch black

For a long time I finger the darkest spot

I watch it become a black whirlpool

and with the power of the whirlpool tempts sun and moon

Terror is born from this As with the night it has no place to escape to

In a panic that night my secret was entirely exposed

my only courage was born out of dejection

my final daring born out of death

Either abandon it all or possess everything

I simply must walk into the black swamp

I was born suspicious born credulous

before my birth I gave my mother cramps premonitions

Tonight nightmares will pierce the thin ice

flooding in on and sinking my memories

What I want to submerge is already sunk

all that remains is a cluster of old sunlight I haven't yet overcome

my silence stops the black night's throat

Black Tears [黑色眼泪]

Whose child is on the square playing with a ball

He wants to stir my heart till it bounces on the ground

a bounce makes an empty sound

on earth everybody is a ball rolling here bouncing there

I never imagined god created so many people

I never thought so many people created only one god

Just like god everyone dominates me

Who is it that arrives languidly leaving listless

On the rim of a broken china bowl I ponder for a thousand winks

a thousand moments become one night

black solitude cries black tears

The shadows sloping through the dusk fall toward me

my hands are thrust into the night

It's as if my life is imperiled by the night and the day

I don't want to stand against death in full battle gear

I have ten thousand anxieties

things I want to dispose of I have yet to throw away

Black Hesitation [黑色犹豫]

Dusk is close

In ruins the stale rays of evening sun reminisce their brilliance

I close my eyes slow in wanting to open them

a black hesitation circles in my blood

The night wind blows through a fearful haze

I don't know where to go

I'm so heavy with grief

perhaps it's permanent homesickness

I want to walk over that stretch of open country

a stretch of country, yellowing, set in its ways

my hesitation already exhausted

I walked sunward all day

I find it also hesitates each day

sunk in black hesitation

Black Gold [黑色金子]

Already prostrate withered, I'm

obedient already in all things

my loftiness has hurt so many lowly people

my wisdom hurt so many able all-rounders

my eyes become deep pools

misfortune infects the blood

the milk of my breast transforms into tears of gall too

my trials are griefs of gold

plundered by all

beset by all of love

Each night is a chasm

where you possess me as black night possesses the firefly

my soul will change into mist and clouds

leaving all my dead body obedient

The Black Cave [黑色洞穴]

The darkness of the cave envelopes day and night

flocks of bats wheel around arched walls

their wings stir up a gloomy obscene charm

in a splendid flash of time a woman slips into a blind cosmos

Who extends a hand to point the road out without a sky?

A hand bony and thin

wants female roundness moulded into angles

to make clouds and rain with a slight of the hand

Pull the woman out

give her eyes lips

make her a cave

Who stretches out a hand

and adds to a sky without a path?

A hand bony and thin

that wants to rake in the sunlight with its fingers

and leave the brand of one searing finger on the woman's breast

and in the cave of woman cast the stalactite

The sky with a slight of hand the earth with a flip of it

The Black Nightgown [黑色睡裙]

Bottle of a bottomless deep, I'm filled with footwashing water

the rainy nights are the most meaningful

ask a fellow over to talk big

before he arrives I don't think a thing

I lower the violet curtain turn on a red wall lamp

the black nightgown swings in a circle in the room

there have already been three knocks on the door

propped on the floor in the middle of the room

we start drinking strong tea

flattering high-sounding words run loud like water

honeyed lies as moving as stars

Slowly casually I lean back on the sofa

and with academic detachment relate an old maid's tale

the god between us begins to abscond

he covers his ears loses a slipper

all night big talk has an overall effect

when telling a story

the darker the night the better

the harder the rain the better

Black Midnight [黑色子夜]

Light a cigarette and move through the night

the steps of a woman in heat loiter in the black night

only desire is red and smells fishy

glittering because she is seeking

a smoke ring with nothing to its name that floats in the sky

before the merciless indifference the stars fade

a shadow huge and black coils around the seven-storey apartment block

over from the mouths of all the windows pass pitch-black sighs

suddenly I have one wish only -­-

to kill and set fires break down doors go in

a decrepit old bachelor

is tearing the clothes off the woman

snatching a half-extinguished butt off her

lost ruthlessly in the dark

The Black Stone [黑色石头]

Find a man to torture

a beauty smiles with tiger's teeth

you must follow in the tracks of suicide to live

walk toward despair brimful of confidence

a nothing land and a nothing sky

you can be as great as you want

death is a stone life a stone too

nothing to hate nothing to love

nothing to be loyal to nothing to betray

the more heartbroken the happier

let bottomless ideas control all

small fluffy birds preen through its baser obligations

a head won't give a dream house room

the flow of blood saturates the air of catastrophe

even though the forbidden fruit, already fully ripe

without temptations all of it will be plundered

Here like butterflies itching to fly

faces of pregnant women everywhere

the nightmare mystery brims with provocation

if you live you will have the contractions for life

Black Frosted Snow [黑色霜雪]

On the dim and dark mountainside moguls

frost and snow nourish the dry cold color of night

everything will grow into nothing

A witch is trapped in her own magic

in the night who can escape themselves

who can write their own names with snow and frost

I have loads of cold looks

the world flattens out for them too

the exercise of magic is always aided by the exercise of night

a snowy lacquered-on complexion seals the loneliness in ice

In the morning on the water begin to face up to the water

Like a cat, cooking smoke licks at the scales of the tiles

in flight a victorious fish slips through the market of the live catch

the air reeks of blood, the hawking cries rip through the dawn

The Black Turtle [黑色乌龟]

The pool of sloth is unfathomably deep

a hidden peril adorned by a string of bubbles

the turtle dreams an ancient dream

while dreaming its head is timidly drawn in

with turtle patience I while away a long night

warm black emotions feed earth and sky

tree shadows like the drifting clouds wish to be immortal fly

in a drift that carries you away

the turtle is good at dream images

the frail moon bends a tired back

the weight of the night cannot be got beyond

my body carries a nest of turtle eggs

a blackbird awakens me

at sunset a slothful slumber is aborted into clouds

I wonder how I should thank the blackbird

thinking everyone needs to be thanked

The Black Night: Poem as Postscript [黑夜:跋诗]

Brothers, I'm transparent with no thing to my name

but you must believe that I'm uncommonly ripe

in one night my path becomes a sheer cliff

I decide to stand with my back to the sun

let the path ahead be drowned by dark shadows

your call comes at me head-on

the response becomes gravel and rolls into a dry river bed

Hey brothers, where do we go

my transparency is everything

you can trust the splendor of my ripeness

watching you abruptly I'm as aged as the night

in the dark silently I choose to forge a self-respect

a sheer height of pride

over my abyss you'd have no need for well-intentioned speculations

the cliff and I have ended our confrontation

made one on a plinth of icy pain and sublime solitude

O brothers

my weight and nobility will surpass all

I Want a Son [我要一个儿子] 1988

The room shrinks my body grows big

I fear childbearing, fear birthing a weird fetus

the fear wounds head to tail tears me in two

I won't tolerate a bale of flesh owning me for no reason

won't tolerate a bale of flesh deserting me without cause

Everyplace people, those who ought to die don't

a hive of loud honeybees discussing liberty and independence

makes god murderous, and he forsakes us

we also jettison god

always wearily alive, god hasn't the luck to die

we are better than gods, we who die

I am hemmed in by a haggard old rag of kid's clothing

in a dream I use up all my strength

a stone with a rasping hack can't spit out its phlegm

at last with this my granddad breathes his last gasp

the flow of warmth for the only wound in my body stops

a teardrop is frozen on my face

and becomes a white mole

an all-over weakness worsens into a critical condition

I don't want a thing

I want a son

The Hausfrau [主妇] 1988

My waist thickens, my voice gets loud

a chattering mouthful of teeth bites the world to bits

a daily fare of garrulous words is very tasty

Silver bracelets can play tricks on hands and wrists

one nothing to do with the other, ring on ring they press each other flat

it's time for me to circle the pots

tie on a dirty apron

I've the eyesight of a mouse, and these far-reaching feelings for the family

Trifling things, never end ever to work or words

only the ordinariness makes the days long

tomorrow's tomorrow is all jammed into jars and cans

you can live to the finish like this

What can a person do

we build houses, then go in go out

we build ships lay down roads, then come and go

we lay flights of stairs, go up and down

we live days as they come, fussing through a lifetime

the tingle in the toenail is not wrong

Without me, where can you find shelter

home is a doomsday land

I was born and will die at home

I'll fight over each, I'll not give one inch

stacked pieces or Chinese characters crowd around

I bring you like bones scattered in a tomb

in ‘round me, wrap you in a home

The Mirror [镜子] 1988

Tears stream down the face of the mirror, wet what light it has

the heart of the reflection poisonous the hands soft

facing the glass a blow to my chest

what's smashed is an appearance

now I don't fret over where to rest

this wall's house

has unlimited space

I reside in it, alone with the light

my whole body ruled by the mirror

I wear the mirror down

and the mirror wears out time

The lamp has no good intentions

it holds my flaws in its teeth

this face is so ugly

this body so clumsy

in front of the mirror I take myself in

the mirror and I are in league

the night is my only shelter

a full wig won't let the weak points show

I curl up in the glass

lean on the only wall

I have my trump card

I blow on the mirror

its old eyes dim

at a stroke of my hand

its spirit shines

the mirror follows my orders

the mirror orders me around

An Absent-minded Noontime [走神的正午] 1988

The sound of stone music is low

opium poppies stand in the wind, in weak condition

the skin on the face of the moon is thin

We have a good name as a couple

a loving pair, together till our hair grays

we eat plain food enjoy the good days

open strife the secret struggles are a delicious dish

See me squat on the face of white porcelain

and excrete yesterday

see water flush it down another pipe

before it loses body warmth, memory drops it

a wisp of odor stays on hauntingly

The sky sinks low

sinks to water's bottom

a fragile heavy transparency of glass

a vista degenerating incessantly

a face a brittle leaf

Swallow a mouthful of saliva, then you can put up with the world

A Confession [自白] October 8, 1989

I have my family property

I have my interests

a study-cum-bedroom

everyday in books I make a life

I quietly converse with a sheet of white paper

I listen close to the paper's roar the pen's sobbing appeal

I vomit up my heart and spill blood on a character

I watch the happy look of the paper

the impressive laugh a stretch of open silence

A sheet of paper floats into the flow of the river

one sheet drifts up to the clouds

and now I expose both palms

ten fingers ten fine

symbols possessed alone by me reveal heaven's secret

ten transparent nails dance on the door

since birth I've made uncommon music

My skin is the skin of paper

written out by mountains and rivers

my face is the pallid white of paper

my appearance negligent

casually I shed shreds of paper

a bare foot steps into the grassland

I squander the realm of the deathless in my dreams

a papier-mâché mask laughs endlessly wildly

it's already guessed the paper's riddle

I posses a study-cum-bedroom

the moon in the window is my family property

I was born to be a sheet of blank paper

anticipating a divine pen

to write me in

I have my interests

my palace in heaven is on a sheet of paper

I seek the sound of god to build a ladder

to lay blank paper flat sheet by sheet

to blot out the wrinkles of characters

I crawl onward through the thorny thicket of words

Unexpected Scenery [意外的风景] Oct. 29-Nov. 30, 1989

The observer turns his body away

before his eyes a stretch of unexpected scenery

look at this lonely face

searching for a wind to allay his hunger

darkly, desert sips desert

darkly, sea water sips sea water

I look at myself like a doctor

the illness enters the vital organs

I patiently stroke the glossy metal

the icy old body temperature pleases

I shrug my shoulders

and search for another hand in mine

I have already tasted the flavor of metal

death is the gift I've long anticipated

The eye is empty of people, vacant of vistas

the space in a hand is space enough for me to live in

when did I fear this solitude and terror

the solitude makes time and space flee into the wild

the terror smothers all animals to death

the person who waits for me stands on the horizon

like a tree growing on a sheer cliff

distance increases my feelings of tenderness

what are we saying

we only see the setting sun the fluctuating shape of a mouth

between us we can't hear a sound

a gesture repeatedly wrong

leads me to mistakenly enter a divergent path

a wind scattering lies wakes me

I can only leave the mistake be

autumn days no path to follow

the hollows of the palms of fallen leaves still drip icy tear drops

The rainfall is my sobbing

and leaves your whole body soaked

a sound of rain that seeps into a person

an ancient melody

carries comfort to you

autumn is my gift

death is my gift

and I am your gift

The entire body of the moon bright and clear

a white that delivers the color blue and cold

a woman lying face to the sky

an idle body a patch of waste

the body of a wild beast and hoof-prints of domestic fowl

I'm just like a plant

moving back and forth between heaven and earth

Between fruit and fruit I have a beautiful bleak dream

I lie like this, arms spread wide

one hand empty as the wild

one hand a winning ticket in its grasp

the blood placidly flows away

wounds of sorrow trouble me no more

homesickness lays a hectic life at leisure

Who's telling a ghost story

who's making a terrifying joke

that icy metal makes flesh crawl hair stand

in the gloom my body drinks in a sword

as it would drink a large bowl of numbing spiced meat soup

I'm a merry woman

who loves to chortle and chirp like a painted bird or flower

that day on my birthday I drank too much

and had an exuberant interest in the gray scenery

after my day of birth came life

to not live is to not live in vain

death is my gift

death is unexpected scenery

Do not look for me in the mirror

I'm in the palm of my hand

in the palm of the hand of water

in the palm of death's hand

I must strike a pose of living for myself to see

and strike the same pose for you

a woman who eats the desert has no years

a woman who eats the wind is without a form

you come, I go, I turn my body away

like this the sky is close to me

like this I'm close to the land

close to you

close to unexpected scenery

How do You do It [你怎么下手]

Autumn leaves ears all red

bear the season's shame

listen carefully to the brittle sound of wind

stones carry a hidden pain

the sighs of clouds forever at your ear

since birth I've carried a wound prepared to bleed

a line of murdering light comes over

to see how you do it

A mother fish swallows the bait and the hook

its tail kicks water, kicks stones away

a affected expression moves people deeply

with all your might you want to find an inflexible foe

an old fisherman whistles a flirtatious tune

how can you bear to do it

Death is best at killing time

now you need patience

I untie my arms and legs

expose a wound forever fresh and alive

the wound full of resentments that never heal

the sky darkens

you test a knife on a tree

I watch how your hand falls

A Zombie [行尸]

Twilight, only the sound of a human head hitting the ground

the bone of an animal wedges into the wound

bearing the agony that never heals

the bitter astringency of blood, the aches of the flesh

which of you can get free of it

the sky is in no position to rise high

the wind cannot screen the desert's naked body

this nude's zombie is free and easy

an invisible grace vast boundless

cold detached she can't control herself, her limbs are paralyzed

Three months pregnant, the blood has taken a form

the miserable screams of an induced abortion scatter in shards

a heap of broken mountains and rivers a mix of flesh and blood

a bundle of empty belly-skin kneaded into wrinkled silk

Watching an extremely familiar face

she suddenly forgets the name

a drop of light cannot be absorbed

she's eaten the five cereals had a hundred illnesses

but the life of one bean bloats a person to death

Facing a sheer precipice let out a great yell, absolute silence

yet the stone sucks in a cold breath

blue grass hovers between life and death

transparent green sap swells roots and stems

pinch a bright-colored finger

a plant's blood hasn't a fishy smell

A Performance of Death [死亡的表演] December 1989

Now there's nothing that can be done

I lay out my body, cover my head and sleep soundly

blood sinks without limit

sleep makes me a sheet of white paper the skin of a beast

an enigmatic plaster an elegant position to sleep in

thinly spread on the bed

on the bed is spread water sand two levels of clouds

wind and water everywhere, I'm happy with the ups and downs

A stretch of glass my body beyond me

madly I drink in a bone carving's view

the blind eye of the bedroom's west window is open

I look over my sleeping posture in dreams

my limbs have no form

blood doesn't dissipate the alcohol, I'm plastered like mud

asleep I become a gold bough a jade leaf

a pool of dead water

a heap of fragrant rubbish

the west wall opposite yanks out a wind sail

a hotbed follows the current down

a flat boat floats in my hand

but the pillow has already cast anchor

in the dream I see a blind bird flying in the mirror

its call flutters down

Deep in the night the quilt ferments

simultaneously a different sort of sloth swells

embroidered pajamas a body of oedema

my flesh and blood is puffy, incessantly drowsy

the bed is an entrancing stage

at this moment I'm up in the sky

a meteor shoots across the corner of my eye

the soft setting sun resplendent calm

the distant dreamland well lit by lamp light

my body nears this land, allowing sound sleep to act death out

one leg performs, one watches

one side of my face dies, one keeps watch by it

death is a desire a treat

I lay out my body, the sleeping position stiffens

closing eyes is like closing an old book

shining windows consciousness becomes a gravestone

a cacophony of the intonation of all sorts of inscriptions

Metaphysical Scenery #8 [形而上的风景] Dec. 31, 1990

A pure tree

no flowers no leaves no fruit

barren of branch

extremely abstract

on a backdrop of winter

framed into a woodcut by the west window

Poet you sit facing a wall

you say what are you doing

with words you praise words

with words digest words

with words make words

The music of gods drifts in from the distance

the sound of a laugh from the one looking on vanishes

Poet you sit facing a wall

you say what are you doing

you rely on words to speak

rely on words to make

rely on words for silence

An animal just born

in mother's milk

tastes the immortal taste

Poet you sit facing a wall

you say what are you doing

At the source of words you seek a clear spring

a beautiful vista a bright day

a reader floats on the water

the cover of an old book

Metaphysical Scenery #10 [形而上的风景] Dec. 30, 1990

A drop of evening dew falls from the corner of your mouth

wets words of ancient fragrance and color

Cracks in the paper let loose worries about home

yellow is the color of time

the white-faced scholar dodges into the night

giving a sound to words written in dreams

all his brush strokes of utmost elegance

Your old ancestral home

the years left to you a candle in the wind

flames crackle in the stove

snow laughs in novel ways

kneaded into a carved wooden chair

by the window a white-faced scholar

candle in hand

biting, chewing on words

A book takes charge of one side of things

the book has its own gold

its own color

in the book is everything it needs

on one sheet of paper

a banquet that never ends

it scrapes bones and tortoise shells clean

hangs around with books

some brush strokes soil flowers and stir up the grass

some fish for fame angle for glory

a mirage out at sea

seek its home at the ultima Thule of words

settle down in your mother tongue and get on with it

Terror has its source in a cup of yellow earth

recall has its in a heap of old books

Poet you sit facing the wall

you say what are you doing

I make a home for the wind to blow

shed tears for the rain to fall

get wed for clouds to climb into the sky

Amidst the characters and the lines

a flower blooms

a fragrance that billows out over a hundred lives

a single cup of wine

makes the spirit drunk

Poet you sit facing the wall

you say what are you doing

with words you give birth to words

with words foster more words

together with the poet you bury their words

Metaphysical Scenery #1 [形而上的风景][1]


One hand and the other

repel and attract

clasped together like a clam

a pearl of an idea

like a tree lying in the dirt


Flesh free of affectation

becomes a bearing for the body

two trees share autumn color equally

green leaves, the chant of wind from the four seasons ending

pick up a flower, smile

and quickly drift away


A blind fish

with nothing to do but get fat

wallows in the expiring water

a wisp of blue smoke

wins a way out from death through the uplift of air


Water glad to find form in its hues

the sky as its backdrop

rides abroad on its unreliable horse bagging the wind

the trickiness of water falls into a trap

bones in the avenging of old grudges

are pardoned by god

buried by light

now you are all in heaven

and quiver like cold cicadas


The crossed spears and shields of words

in a battle with your back to the water

no winners or losers

on a page the flags droop the drums cease

lie down in a book to look at the sky

enjoy the vast expanse of thought

the moon holds fast to its flaws

such a bright white suspended belief

the awareness of clouds is unbelievably high

time is the sole snare

the drifting of the crowd is a guise for its lock step with destiny


A pose of careful listening can gain an outpouring

a sound as old as the earth and sky

too weak to survive the wind

a tenderness difficult to bear

this day is boring to the point of fascination

the wind can interpret all languages

it's full of metaphysical charm

a richly-endowed woman, unwoken, slumbers on

her entire body transparent like a silkworm

millions of threads but is this life none of which you can count on

the next life beyond her scope

O god she keeps a respectful distance from you


Count every breath and enter into the quiet

your hand clenches an empty fist

one thought takes the place of ten thousand

warm and soft your limbs

roam the third river bank

go down it with the flow


The sound of wind by your ear is long gone

many complicated looks come to nothing

self-satisfied blood gushes across a thousand miles

silently the drifting clouds secrete the body

establish an image fully express intent but lose it

in the here and now snowflakes fly up

A Confession [自白] Sept. 27, 1992

A mirror hovering in the air

days to come will reflect the old

the wind rouses old affairs

makes me cry

tears have a charming salty flavor

hardened sleep is soaked to softness by the water

a river wind scatters my limbs

my body a bundle of gentle feelings

I sit in a fabricated chair

I dress and make up

A knife of a subtle persuasiveness

its blade moves with skill and ease

following each change of heart

A cat takes a walk on the roof

blue tiles too many to count

The tree of a settled life

has no branches no leaves

is rocked by silence

and takes joy in the seasons

the nonexistent apples are

full of autumn color

The wind is not seen to move

wandering homeless clouds

have only themselves to blame

water will be happy in its place

and I will be content in mine

Tired, Dozing Off [困顿] August 1993

Noon well fed empty spirits

women filled with thoughts of sleep

an overly ardent sun

animals and plants start to doze

The pregnant ink is unbelievably close to full term

So eager to come out well, a crowd of written characters don't do themselves credit

some words dream of flowers and willows

some characters shore up remnants of mountains and rivers

a culture that honors ancestors

so splendid in decline

the ancient sun shines

illuminating a mob of unworthy children

Today exploits yesterday

one character blackmails another

cook all Chinese characters in one big pot

stew them till they are soft very nourishing pulp

roast yesterday till it's dry

the setting sun is a delicious dish

looks aroma flavor it has everything

but the children shred the wasted-paper

and the women laugh demurely

Noon well fed empty spirits

the sky has evil intentions

the sun bares a ferocious face

plants and animals wither

A Mirror Game [镜子游戏] 1994

A river shot through with Yin fostering Yang

loses its heart in an empty space

the water's looks are confirmed again and again

you see through to the bottom of the deep

like walking on flat land

thinking of the fall's finish sets your heart at ease

sleep digests the aggravation in front of your eyes

a heavyhearted egg

never stops

hatching startled chicks

they fly up to the sky

transform into clouds

the moon is their hometown

barren of human signs

the looks of clouds a thousand transformations in a wink

a million attitudes struck to fit any situation

The Mirror and the Brush [镜子与笔] 1994

A masterly brush

convenes characters roaming in every direction like monks

and a sheet of paper gives them a stable home enjoyable jobs

it fosters the writing in the mirror

one daub and it's black

the sunlight has fled inexorable doom

laying bare the dark plots of old books

merciful during the days and months

my heart is kind to each character

awareness of blood ties brings me joy

lets me savor the flavor of grains and fruit

thanks to the will of heaven

my limbs and brush strokes dissolve into one

in a wink I accomplish the mission of a lifetime

make each character shoot bright rays in every direction

the brush strokes grow like seeds of grain

pearls of dew drop jade green

this is the brush's dream

lean on this brush bring forth birth death and love into being

lean on the mirror make a home

I'm a happy poet

I dream that the brush blossoms

spirits high colors bright

leaning on a brush I touch a star

take command of a classical text

the galloping cavalry of Chinese characters

Horses of heaven move through the sky

everywhere victorious

With feet on a sheet of white paper

I mount a cloud ride the mist

the hooves of my horse never rest

The Mirror and the Flower [镜子与花朵] 1994

The rose in the mirror a bud about to bloom

flowering is an inborn skill

withering is of another kind

the tricks of flowering and falling

and the fragrance with no bone nor flesh

fall to a good heart

A haughty winter season

a sky of cracked ice the attacks of frigid air

the ice is a beauty's mirror

skin like caked grease

chilliness is in a beauty's disposition

beautiful people use hearts as mirrors

a laugh is an everlasting flower

laugh the laugh that brings you riches

the laugh of the hopelessly far behind

laughing is a field of learning

its own state

a way out

Who is it that with a chuckle picks the flower

the laughter of the dead echoes through the sky

laughter becomes wind

grows into a vast body of water

water is the mirror of the wise

clouds are the mirrors of the gods

piece after piece of flo-ice fills the sky

a beauty's pearly tears are the head dress of our ancestors

The Belle of the West Shi Clan[2] [美女西施] 1995

Beauty is a ruthless war

Looks that topple cities and states

make history unbearable

long drawn out jealousy

does not differentiate male from female

The East Shi clan acted out

a play that sunk deep in the heart of man

a pot of mature vinegar appetizingly sour

soaking in it the whimsical fluctuations of the oval of a face

Flirting is a cheery form of attack

In their sleep belles seek out weapons

rusted shields and spears can meet the urgent need

engaging the enemy in my dreams

I stand in front of a shield

beautiful looks sweep past the flash of blades shadows of swords

this bout very calm and cool

countenance and voice unmoved

I watch the long lance in my hand slowly grow soft

like long flowing sleeves it floats off elated

Night is a battlefield without borders

vinegar and strong drink await dawn pillowed on a battle-axe

make the hearts of beauties and heroes ash

in the seven orifices of the head the fires of war rise

a stretch of scattered corpses

I am one

gracefully I stand between spear and shield

threatened by both

quietly reciting a declaration of war

the results self-evident

behind the shields the enemy lying in wait is

just a carved relief on a copper mirror

smiling I follow the dawn cock crow

the phoenixes on my nightgown suffer famine

compel me immediately to get out of bed

No time to tidy up the battlefield

the whole mirror a view of the war's aftermath

clothing flung every place

like piles of dislocated corpses

among them I am one

some more charming than in life

better able to go down into history

White bones in a wasteland

have a form livelier than in life

Death is an even purer vista

the outer forms of shellfish are all very pretty

can be used to make myths and ornaments for the head

just as Xishi's name has become an adjective

Some haven't seen a mirror in their entire life

some Xishi

I have to face the mirror meticulously wash and dress

and maintain peace and order in the room

arbitrarily I glance over a page of the paper

the textual research of a specialist scholar states

the belles of the West and East Shi clans were twin sisters

they were bashful deaf and dumb

easy for others to talk a lot about

Apricots and grapes lower their banners muffle their drums

and help me digest the edibles in my belly

[1] This poem was originally published in a 1991 edition of Mountain Flower monthly [山花], a literary magazine published in Guiyang, Guizhou province. However, it was rewritten and published again in the September 1993 edition of People's Literature [人民文学] monthly, published in Beijing. It is this latter version which I have here translated. MD

[2] Xishi 西施; an infamous feme-fatale of China's Spring-Autumn period (770-446 B.C.E.). One of the first of a series of women to be blamed for the fall of kingdoms and dynasties over the course of Chinese history.

No comments: