Xiao Kaiyu 肖开愚 poetry translations

The Poetry of Xiao Kaiyu


Selections: 1989-1997

Xiao Kaiyu was born in 1960 in Zhongjiang in central Sichuan province. Trained as a doctor, Xiao also turned his hand to poetry during the 1980s and began having poetry officially published during 1986. His entry onto the poetry scene resulted in his making the acquaintance of several avant-garde unofficial poets, such as Ouyang Jianghe, Sun Wenbo孙文波, Liao Yiwu, and Li Yawei. Ultimately, his involvement with the avant-garde scene led to a change in his poetical style and his taking on an editorial role with two unofficial poetry journals: The Nineties九十年代 , an influential annual (1990-1993), and Against 反对, a smaller periodical that saw eleven issues published in 1990, but only one each year until 1993. It was also at this time that Xiao moved from Sichuan to Shanghai, and in 1997 he moved to Germany, where he has since resided.

  1. Mao Zedong 毛泽东
  2. Exhaling Mist 呵雾
  3. A Morning 早晨
  4. Blackbird 乌鸦
  5. The People's Bank 人民银行
  6. In the Park 在公园里
  7. The Northern Station 北站
  8. Saturday Night 星期六晚上
  9. The Last Day of the Year 一年的最后一天
  10. Long Fiction 长篇小说

Mao Zedong 毛泽东

A reduction in color and all unnecessary over-elaboration on the model

makes the great figure of correct content

partial to silvery gray — the color of clouds — and indigo

the color of seas — the pure qualities of

vast things. He likes this kind of country.

Like a badge the sun appears on the brow,

appears in a sea of people.

Above the reflection is an atmosphere amid innumerable steel smelters

building a bright, diaphanous square flooded with limitations by the limitless

around the purplish gold, but actually earthen city walls and moat.

The papers cheer the triumph of ideals

Tidewaters rowdily swell up

From billions of hearts a hurricane blows promoting the scope of depression on the faces

of flags

These waves of red sails lead seawater to rise,

ascend, and in the sea there’re only wrecks and the sea bottom.

He lies in a swimming pool full of ancient texts

in a refitted room, gazing at the air

spitting out complex phrases,

indecipherable profundities contained in the burs of stiff sounds of speech

the warrior’s language comes from the battlefield of the spirit, who can understand?

Exhaling Mist 呵雾

A mountain top? A house? A person?

please don't breathe out again

please don't put today to sleep

please don't force it out, don't

please don't open your mouth

please don't believe in the buoyancy of air

and let down a first well-meaning desire

let down a hand held out

a dazzling face

an intoxicating waist

a morning light kept secret too long

a silently burning scruple

My damp body has already reached noon

my lukewarm heart is already in middle years

I watch the mist scatter into a feeble sunlight

I pass through a thicket of statues

open a book from which almost all type-face has fled

encourage a very small dream

A Morning 早晨

A morning of a candle

a morning of a ball of snow

rolling, an explosion, a conspirator and his mother-in-law

a morning of an overwhelming defeat

A morning of talk

a morning of imperative statements, of orders

and inceptive language

a morning of the megaphone

A morning of milk, eggs and contemplation

a morning of class struggle

A morning of the movement of limbs

a morning of sunlight, a morning

of lungs and surface appearances

a morning of a vehicle

moving, hauling a husband away

Blackbird 乌鸦


One day, in a primary school room

I learned this noun.

That evening I saw its black wings

unfold from the sky, like a parachute

fall with a feeling of hovering,

covering the bodies of me and my little sister.

Ai, from under the walnut tree in the yard my little sister

hesitantly walked into her bedroom,

into the maw of a huge blackbird.

Later in a different land, among the ruins of an old building

on the wall of my heart I saw a flock of them

suddenly fly up like a premonition of death

like a black cloud, and thought of my little sister.

She got married to a man,

on the home village's short, one-and-only street,

in a grocery shop.

The People's Bank 人民银行


In the grey haze of evening the buildings of Lujiazui

hang costly heads.

The chair-shaped hall of the People's Bank

has pock-faced guards to forbid the entrance of our ilk.

We are not bankers and banker's kin,

we are not figures this bank wants to reckon.

We are just people, men and women,

in a fog but a body of joy.

The mother bank assiduously sits upright,

old and influential, swallowing strings of numbers.

O, those numbers are all astonishing,

most are the bitter flavor of a rhizome root,

a few the meteoric yellow hallucinations of cocaine.

Too many of them come from multiplication,

they pile up savagely, yet timidly,

toward a friendly, thoroughgoing bout of diarrhea.

Those afraid of the people's numbers

mount a dais, and from the meeting go to the bank.

I've said I'm a poet of the proletariat,

but am keen on strolling on the waterfront and in Lujiazui.

This riddle is like high-voltage going through a chair

subjugating a similar neural net, the spoils of war

are the silence in the aftermath.

Less than yet more than the people.

In the Park 在公园里


Today, as I had hoped, at four in the afternoon

reclining on a bench in Zhongshan park, I fell

deep asleep. Waking, I feel something's missing.

It is not in the women practicing warlike boxing,

or the bodies of the children playing football, but in me,

in that pleasing intermission as I slept by a lawn,

Some things vanished. In the belly of a pregnant woman,

the striking of a ball, the sound of cicadas, and the drone of an airplane

flying over the park I hear ever more pauses.

I once thought the sky is a bank

will lose its riches, its windstorms, its

emptiness; but me, I have nothing to offer up to be lost.

All I've ever had, in the time I can see,

is not mine. All I've ever had, in the time I speak,

has already vanished; without form, without quality.

I even know what disorders the clothing of weeping relatives at a funeral

is not the breath of the dead,

and remorse. Ooh, it isn't.

The Northern Station 北站


I feel I'm a crowd of people.

On the overpass at the old Northern Station, in my body

some people start to discuss and argue, a cacophony.

I'm smoking, considering the ruins of a train station,

I want to shout, there's a burning in my throat.

I feel I'm a crowd of people.

Walking on an abandoned track, kicking the curling rust of ties,

O, it's unbearably crowded inside me, as if some people are getting on a train,

some off. A train is coming toward me,

another goes whistling out of my body.

I feel I'm a crowd of people.

I walk into a spacious room, pass over a railing,

at the ticket-check of bygone days, suddenly, within me

a void. O, in this waiting room there are no travelers,

what's standing or seated is all dim shadow.

I feel I'm a crowd of people.

In a nearby alley, at a cigarette stall, beside a phone box,

they come out like pearls of sweat. They squat, jump,

block things up in front of me. They wear watches, brocade shirts,

carry weighty trunks as if they're balloons.

I feel I'm a crowd of people.

While eating noodles in a noodle shop they are before me

sitting around the table. Their angular or square faces, laughing loudly, they have a

a bit of an accountant's

false respectability. But I'm extremely hungry. Humming an old movie tune,

they step into my bowl.

I feel I'm a crowd of people.

But they've gathered into a heap of fears. I get on a public bus,

the bus rocks. Enter a bar, the power goes out. So I must walk

to Hongkou, the waterfront, the square, go home in a round about way.

I sense there's another pair of feet in mine.

Saturday Night 星期六晚上


Rush into a restaurant, order a bowl of noodles.

eaten in two minutes, appear very busy, pay no attention too

to the black cat squatting on the floor - it cries

fawningly throughout. Only two people in the little place,

me and the proprietor. He stands askew by the counter

all the time smiling at a bug zapper, half-heartedly

handling my impatience, seemingly approving

of the dry dullness of the evening. While he earnestly looks for change,

I feel having something to do is really important.

So on to the street, buy a paper,

(no news) as soon as a bus stops, get on.

The cold air in the bus is excessive,

I shiver violently, quickly lean back in the seat.

Everyplace on the bus there is plastic, wood chips and a strange smell

of paint. Not many people on the bus, it's raining,

who wants to get out? If not returning home,

if not driven by an unreliable notion,

who would want to spend four bus tickets, head lolling,

almost asleep as one passes through Nanjing Road?

One hour, on waking I hasten

to get off. "A bit of bad luck!" somebody says

behind me. Absorbed in wiping glasses

he's missed his stop. I turn my head and glance back,

the bus swaying, drives into a dusk

composed of a drizzly night-sky and neon lights.

I know the young guy at the bank entrance

is the person I want to see. He's stubby-necked,

short, says he's a robber, of course,

he's already done his utmost to unearth his appearance.

Before we walk into a fast-food shop

we have a few words. Order cold drinks

sit by a window, we start talking about a few

interrelated parties. Their pain

running back and forth between universities. Furthermore,

they're also in the habit of easy sneers,

ridiculing their own organs. Driven to it,

and all manner of planned boredom. After a while,

he looks away at the street in the window, with difficulty

comparing streets and cities in his mind.

In passing he mentions his mother's funeral,

many relatives, many firecrackers, many

unknown children, but very little time

spent by relatives around her portrait exchanging grief.

He thinks her death ended an argument.

Ultimately I can't make out who and who

decide to put the medicine in bread, her eating it

for a month, then her final smile.

We're appropriately quiet for a while

see we've already dragged the time out long enough,

so stand up and take leave: "Till next time!"

Once on the street, he vanishes.

It's not yet late, before going home no harm

in roaming the streets. Again that unreliable

bad notion grabs me. Wild heart beats.

Smoke a cigarette. Even go to a cinema to look

at a program schedule - it seems I've seen all the films. One

about opium, one divorce, another

about one among us conquering emotion.

The solution I obtained at age 10 is now still

mocking my question: I belong to us.

So, the good sign of a day is

a stroll, a bath, to irritatingly slowly utter

nonsense while using the personal singular. What

does it mean? Some streets, some bands

play the national anthem and martial music. The open doors

of a store extrudes a stream of cold air, inside

two girls select tops. At this moment,

I want to go home. Otherwise under the viaduct,

following a master of qi, I must study the use of feet

to scratch my back, to box. Or, instead, to walk with my hands.

Staff are yawning, carrying computers,

slipping into cabs; the lights of buildings tall and short

start to wink out. From an alley bar

comes applause for jazz. After all,

so noisy at such a time of sleep,

it's as if a week of life finally reaches a climax.

In fact, very quickly the bus is at its stop. Now,

the night is deep but grayish-white, not inky-black,

returning to school, by the road I even see

in the woods, two children walking arm in arm.

The Last Day of the Year 一年的最后一天


When it was time to get up a heavy fog had already scattered.

A female neighbor wears underwear in the corridor,

drawing coarse eyebrows fine.

Not yet recovered from alcohol I come down with a cold,

last night's chill wind has holed up in my gut.

Such a horrible body possessed by me,

just as an ugly physique belongs to the female neighbor,

awkwardly she ducks aside to let me walk to the stairwell,

entirely aimless but I must go down.

The sunlight has never seemed so intense as now,

on the lawn is printed a clear shadow of a tree,

on the lawn, male students turn somersaults,

female students hop about,

paling tree leaves sporadically fall.

I start to walk backwards,

then hear a truck approach my buttocks.

A year is over,

the world regains its form from several days of thick fog,

(a slogan on a wall is shamelessly eye-catching)

but eyes can not recall tears.

Long Fiction 长篇小说


As you've been convicted, I'll keep your name a secret.

Nobody has ever finished reading your novels, you have no original stories

to make those strange, suffering people really fight,

and now you have gone to jail. After the villa you built was auctioned off,

all the fault lies in twenty years of liberty.

Now what you have is quiet nights leaning against a wall,

disgrace wraps a bandana round your aching head,

you never thought they'd use the worst rumors

to tack back friendship a day early. In an instant,

they sent you back into the unfortunate illusions of a novelist

And supplied you with a bunch of negative images. Beneath

a beam of light bending down from a prison window you undergo a trial of yourself.

While stating a different confession, a piece of long fiction

opens out to you. The main character wears army fatigues,

shouts watchwords, climbs aboard a train plastered with slogans.

Discovered in the middle of the journey, he is a scoundrel.

He embezzles the alternate meaning of a sentence. Not an adult

he wins the title of swindler. Like other con men

he starts to deceive himself and achieves victories: Again and again

enters prisons, attends courts, spits. As if

A hard-mouthed hero of a mistaken age. He wears worn military clothes

to the completely refurbished defendant's chair of a new era,

relating that set of over-ripe yet ever novel reasons,

officers of the law and auditors all leniently start to snore.

Truly, he is now only able to play literary games.

Is he a passe master of skills of linguistic distortion?

No. He is you. You've deceived the files,

deceived your mother, friends, self, but

from absurd logic drawn a fortune - you did it for

a hundred villas, because you believe in a hundred holidays.

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