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      1. Poems by Bei Dao

        Bei Dao (1949-), meaning "Northern Island" literally, is the pseudonym of Chinese modern poet Zhao Zhenkai, who became in the 1970s the poetic voice of his generation. Bei Dao gained first international acclaim with the poem 'Answer,' which was published in the official poetry journal Shi Kan (Poetry Monthly) in 1980. 'I don't believe the sky is blue; / I don't believe in thunder's echoes; / I don't believe that dreams are false; / I don't believe that death has no revenge." (from 'The Answer') Bei Dao's tone was defiant and especially the last lines from 'Notes on the Coty of the Sun,' have been often quoted as representing the disillusionment of his generation.

        Answers  An Unfamiliar Beach  Quiet and Tremble  An Ancient Temple  We  Outsider  June  Delivering Newspapers  Post  Untitled  Teacher’s Manual  Morning Song  Deformation  Spending the Night  The Hunt  Mission  Swivel Chair  Dry Season  Soap 


        Cruelty is the ID pass of the cruel,
        honesty the grave stone of the honest.
        Look, in the sky plated gold,
        crooked reflections of all the dead float around.
        The glacial epoch is over,
        so why is there ice everywhere?
        Good Hope was rounded a long time ago,
        so where are these thousands of boats racing on the Dead Sea?
        I came into this world
        with only blank pages, rope and my fingers;
        therefore, before final judgements are given,
        I need to speak in all the voices of the defendants.
        Just let me say, world,
        If a thousand challengers are under your feet
        count me as challenger one-thousand-and-one.
        I don't believe the sky is always blue;
        I don't believe it was thunder echoing;
        I don't believe all dreaming is false;
        I don't believe the dead cannot bring judgement.
        If the sea is doomed someday to break its levees
        my heart must flood with all the bitter waters.
        If the land is destined to form the hills again,
        let real human beings learn to choose the higher ground.
        The latest, favorable turnings, the twinkling stars
        studding the naked sky,
        are pictographs five-thousand years old.
        They are the eyes of the future staring at us now.

        An Unfamiliar Beach

        --to P.
        The sails have been lowered.
        A winter forest of masts
        contains unexpected sights and sounds of Spring.
        The ruins of a lighthouse
        still hold the great beams from the past.
        You lean on the remaining stairs,
        on the rusted banisters,
        beating the same rhythm over and over.
        In the dignity of high noon
        our shadows look for temporary lodging.
        All over the place
        salt rock glistens, condensed and
        sparkling with memories.
        In the distance
        there is a vast, white expanse.
        The blue horizon
        is like a moving deck.
        How many nets have been cast?
        A scarf,
        like a red bird,
        waves over the Sea of Japan.
        It flings its imitation of fire
        at this grey end of the world,
        and at your fixed gaze.
        An absence of storms is fine,
        but there is also no direction and no wind.
        Perhaps in answer to a call,
        its wings thrum like a bowstring.
        The ebbing tide
        wave after wave,
        spills on a golden carpet,
        spills a night suffused with foam,
        a lost rope, a broken oar.
        Fishermen bend their naked backs
        and repair the temple the storm collapsed.
        Children chase a crescent moon.
        A sea gull flies right for you,
        but doesnt light on your outstretched hand.

        Quiet and Tremble

        Translated by the author with the assistance of Chen Yan Bing and Diana Jaio
        you are drawing yourself
        being born--light's rising
        turning the paper-night
        madness that you released
        is quiet cast by truth
        pride shines as if internal wounds
        darken all the words
        in secret trembling
        those angels in uniforms
        of a private school
        become fish, querying sea
        a wind reads ruts
        saluting the blue silk beyond

        An Ancient Temple

        The long ago songs of a bell
        weaved this spider web; in the column's crevices,
        grown outward, one sees annual rings there for the counting.
        No memories are here; stones
        that merely scattered the echoes in this mountain valley,
        have no memories.
        That little path, even, by-passed it;
        its dragons and strange birds are gone.
        They took with them the silent bells that hung from the eaves.
        They took the unrecorded legends of the place, too.
        The words on the walls are all worn clean and torn.
        Maybe if it caught on fire
        one could read the words on the inside.
        See the annual growths of the wild grasses,
        so indifferent.
        They don't care if they submit to any master,
        to the shoes of the old monks,
        or to the winds, either.
        Out front the sky is held up by a broken stone tablet.
        Still, led by the gaze of some living person,
        the tortoise may revive and
        come out carrying his heavy secret,
        crawl right out there on the temple's threshold.


        lost souls and scattered spirits
        holdings lanterns chase spring
        scars shimmer, cups revolve
        light's being created
        look at that enchanting moment
        a thief steals into a post office
        letters cry out
        nails o nails
        the lyrics never change
        firewood huddles together
        searching for an audience to listen
        searching for the heart of winter
        river's end
        a boatman awaiting boundless twilight
        there must be some one to rewrite love


        one generation drops like a curtain
        the next is applauding
        the lifetime you've known
        hiding in dark places
        starts gaining attention
        groping, hence light
        letting half a life empty out
        and fill with crane song
        someone's swimming in sickness
        as autumn wind inspects
        the small temperaments of young animals
        the road joins sleep
        and in radiant light that's defeated you
        you stand fast at the nameless fence
        translated by David Hinton


        Wind at the ear says June
        June a blacklist I slipped
        in time
        note this way to say goodbye
        the sighs within these words
        note these annotations:
        unending plastic flowers
        on the dead left bank
        the cement square extending
        from writing to
        I run from writing
        as dawn is hammered out
        a flag covers the sea
        and loudspeakers loyal to the sea’s
        deep bass say June

        Delivering Newspapers

        Who believes in the mask’s weeping?
        who believes in the weeping nation?
        the nation has lost its memory
        memory goes as far as this morning
        the newspaper boy sets out in the morning
        all over town the sound of a desolate trumpet
        is it your bad omen or mine?
        vegetables with fragile nerves
        peasants plant their hands in the ground
        longing for the gold of a good harvest
        politicians sprinkle pepper
        on their own tongues
        and a stand of birches in the midst of a debate:
        whether to sacrifice themselves for art or doors
        this public morning
        created by a paperboy
        revolution sweeps past the corner
        he’s fast asleep


        An elk heading for the pit-trap
        power, the fir tree said, struggle
        cherishing the same secret
        my hair turned white
        retiring, going backwards
        leaving my post
        only one step back
        no, ten whole years
        my era behind me
        suddenly beating on a bass drum


        The landscape crossed out with a pen
        reappears here
        what I am pointing to is not rhetoric
        October over the rhetoric
        flight seen everywhere
        the scout in the black uniform
        gets up, takes hold of the world
        and microfilms it into a scream
        wealth turns into floodwaters
        a flash of light expands
        into frozen experience
        and just as I seem to be a false witness
        sitting in the middle of a field
        the snow troops remove their disguises
        and turn into language

        Teacher’s Manual

        A school still in session
        irritable restless but exercising restraint
        I sleep beside it
        my breath just reaching the next
        lesson in the textbook: how to fly
        when the arrogance of strangers
        sends down March snow
        a tree takes root in the sky
        a pen to paper breaks the siege
        the river declines the bridge invites
        the moon takes the bait
        turning the familiar corner
        of the stairs, pollen and viruses
        damage my lungs damage
        an alarm clock
        to be let out of school is a revolution
        kids jump over the railings of light
        and turn to the underground
        other parents and I
        watch the stars rise

        Morning Song

        Words are the poison in a song
        on the track of the song’s night road
        police sirens  aftertaste
        the alcohol of sleepwalkers
        waking up, a headache
        like the window’s transparent speakers
        from silence to a roar
        learning to waste a life
        I hover in the birdcalls
        crying never
        when the storms have filled up with gas
        light rays snatch the letter
        unfold it and tear it up


        My back to the window of open fields
        holding on to the gravity of life
        and the doubts of May
        like the audience at a violent movie
        lit by drink
        except for the honey-drop at five o’clock
        the morning’s lovers grow old
        and become a single body
        a compass needle
        on a homesick sea
        between writing and the table
        a diagonal enemy line
        Friday in the billowing smoke
        someone climbs a ladder
        out of sight of the audience

        Spending the Night

        A river brings a trout to the plate
        brother alcohol and father sorghum
        ask me to spend the night, the glass
        has the wrinkles of a murderer
        the hotel clerk stares at me
        I hear his arrhythmic heart
        that heart now bright now dim
        lighting the registration form
        on the glossy marble
        the piano goes out of tune
        the elevator turns a yawn into a scream
        as it cuts through lamplit foam
        coming out of its sleeve
        the wind bares an iron fist

        The Hunt

        The teacher faded long ago
        yet the fragments of her diary
        act as a go-between
        following the corridors of continual evolution
        the whole team chases the rabbit
        who will skin it?
        the back door leads to summer
        the eraser can never erase
        the dotted lines turning into sunlight
        the rabbit’s soul flies low
        looking for its next incarnation
        this is a story, many years ago
        someone’s ears pricked up
        stole a glimpse of the sky
        and we the wolves suckling on a red lamp
        have already grown up


        The priest gets lost in prayer
        an air shaft
        leads to another era:
        escapees climb over the wall
        panting words evoke
        the author’s heart trouble
        breathe deep, deeper
        grab the locust tree roots
        that debate the north wind
        summer has arrived
        the treetop is an informer
        murmurs are a reddish sleep
        stung by a swarm of bees
        no,  a storm

        Swivel Chair

        I walk out of a room
        like a shadow from a music box
        the rump of the sun sways
        stopping dead at noon
        empty empty swivel chair
        in the funnel of writing
        someone filters through the white paper:
        wrinkled face
        sinister words
        in regard to enduring freedom
        in regard to can I have a light
        the heart, as if illuminating
        even more of the blind
        shuttles between day and night

        Dry Season

        First it’s the wind from home
        the father like a bird flying
        over a river of drowsy haze
        suddenly changes course
        but you’re already sunk in the fog
        supposing memory wakes
        like the night sky in an observatory
        you clip your fingernails
        close the door open the door
        friends are hard to recognize
        until letters from the old days
        completely lose their shadows
        at sunset you listen closely
        to a new city
        built by a string quartet


        In the kitchen washing my hands
        soapy water runs down the drain
        like a French horn’s
        the bride waves goodbye
        to the canal of keeping dates
        who is the white-haired witness
        going upstream?
        a group photo with the sun
        half my face covered
        the other half daylight
        in the windless solitude
        in the rivers and lakes fish forget one another
        the night creates a momentary god
        bats in the eyes of drug addicts
        destroy themselves in passion

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