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      1. Poems by Yu Jian (1954-)


        The Beer Bottle-top  Luo Jiasheng  Mouse  Opus 112  A Fruit Full of Heart-broken Juices  Rivers  Speed  The Naming of a Crow 


        The Beer Bottle-top

        Translated by Simon Patton
        
        unsure of how to address it
        it was still sitting at the head of the table only a moment ago
        the custodian of a bottle of stout
        absolutely indispensable
        it has a sense of its own status
        signifying conviviality as the sun goes down
        and the depth of froth in a glass
        opened with a pop at the start of the evening meal
        the action strikingly similar to that of a bullfrog
        the waiter even believes that it really is a frog
        believes that something on the table covered with cooked food has unexpectedly been brought back to life
        he is vexed by his misunderstanding
        and immediately shifts his attention to a toothpick
        he is the last one
        after him
        the world gives it no further thought
        with no other entries on it in the dictionary
        no original meanings extended meanings transferred meanings
        but those dishes originally arranged in submission before it
        signify nothing less than the flavours of Sichuan cuisine
        the napkin is touched by the hand of a general
        the roses in full bloom
        an allusion to privilege
        in an eccentric arc it exited this gathering
        an arc not its own
        the brewery
        never designed such a line for its product
        it now lies on the floor with the cigarette butts
        footprints
        bones and other rubbish
        an unrelated jumble
        an impromptu design
        of no use to anyone
        but its plight is even more wretched
        a butt reminds the world of a slob
        a bone brings to mind a dog or a cat
        and footprints of course allude to a human life
        it is waste
        its whiteness being nothing more than its whiteness
        and its shape nothing more than its shape
        it falls beyond the reach of our adjectives
        I wasn't a drinker then
        it was I who opened the bottle of beer
        and for this reason I noticed its strange leap
        its simple disappearance
        I suddenly tried to imagine the pop it made
        jumping out into space
        but was unable
        mine was the body of an author of a collection of poetry and sixty kilograms of corporeal existence
        all I did was bend down
        and pick up this alluring small white object
        it was hard
        with a serrated rim
        which cut into my finger
        and made me feel a sharpness unlike that of knives
        
        February 1991
        


        Luo Jiasheng

        every day as the chimneys belch smoke
        he comes riding to work on his
        old “Bell”-brand bicycle
        
        past the administration building
        past the forging shop
        past the perimeter wall of the storehouse
        to that small hut
        
        workers standing in workshop doorways
        say     when they see him
        Luo Jiasheng’s here
        
        no one knows anything about him
        no one asks him anything about himself
        the whole factory calls him Luo Jiasheng
        
        the workers are always knocking on his door
        wanting their watches repaired     electric meters repaired
        their radios repaired
        
        during the Cultural Revolution
        he was expelled from the factory:
        in a suitcase belonging to him
        someone had found a tie
        
        when he was allowed to come back to work
        he still rode that old “Bell”
        Luo Jiasheng
        got married without anyone knowing
        he invited no one to the wedding
        at the age of forty-two
        he became a father
        
        in the same year
        he died
        an electric furnace opened an enormous gash
        in his head
        it was shocking
        
        on the day of the funeral
        his wife did not attend
        a few workers carried his coffin up into the hills
        they said     he was short
        he wasn’t heavy
        the watches he repaired
        were better than new
        
        the chimneys belch smoke
        workers stand in the workshop doorways
        Luo Jiasheng
        hasn’t come to work
        
        1982
        


        Mouse

        you, little uninvited pest
        made your stronghold in my room
        sneaking in, creeping out     never stopping to say “hello”
        it was only this evening when I saw your illustrious name
        listed beside that of Donald Duck on the TV     that I realized you were a movie star
        that was the end of my peace of mind
        there was a mouse in my room
        like a lump     growing inside my body
        many times I’d been to the hospital     but they’d never found anything
        half a steamed bread bun had been sawn away
        there were suspicious black specks in my rice
        who, after all, was the culprit?
        I became more cautious     ears straining to hear the slightest noise
        listening to cupboards     listening to floorboards
        of course, I tracked down those small but solid sounds
        but I had no way of knowing for sure
        whether the little runt was nibbling on my favourite clothes
        or gnawing away at antiques left to me by my grandfather
        you were always so light on your feet
        it was almost as if you wanted to spare my feelings
        my mother’s mother used to be like this
        in the middle of windy nights     she would quietly get out of bed     and close all the windows
        you dance on cakes     piss on tablets
        the books I like are riddled with gaping wounds
        but when it came to the crunch, you had no idea what made a noise     and what didn’t
        so when you knocked over my chinaware     which then jumped to the ground from a great height
        you triggered, much to your surprise, an earthquake
        that startled me from dreams     on tip-toes
        unable to fly into a rage
        having to be lighter on my feet than you
        I felt my way from the bed-head to the book-shelf     worried that you would hear me
        like you were in the middle of writing something     not to be disturbed
        but I was clumsier than you     in the end, I knocked over a chair
        panicked, I looked left and right    ashamed of something, it seemed
        in fact, you, you little runt, were probably already fast asleep
        after a drink of milk     and a change of bedroom
        hiding in your hole     eyes like a couple of black beans, twitching in your head
        watching me, big and lumbering     stark naked     stripped of all poise
        and learning about what I looked like at night
        you kept quiet     in this you were different from your father
        this quality of yours     put me in an unbearable position
        I couldn’t stand it any longer     I knocked and poked at random
        hell-bent on a thorough search     to arrest you     and to put you to death
        but when I saw the massive articles of furniture around me
        and the bunkers concealed within countless household odds and ends
        frustration got the better of me    and not knowing what to do
        I called off the hunt
        outsiders were under the mistaken impression that I had the room to myself
        that I was calm and steady     devoted to study
        actually, I was a nervous wreck     I avoided going out
        I’d hurry home as soon as work was over
        and, once inside, start opening cupboards    and cases
        checking up on that rotten bastard who always kept me guessing
        to see what new tricks he’d played on me
        


        Opus 112

        whoever notices how many leaves the wind
        knocks from these trees
        and whoever sees this many leaves
        on such a beautiful, sun-lit afternoon
        suddenly falling     all of them dying
        is bound to shudder
        
        1988
        


        A Fruit Full of Heart-broken Juices

        a fruit full of heart-broken juices     placed on morning’s table
        Cézanne tablecloth     diamond of beasts’ dreaming
        the sunlight spins     moving shadows     directing the fruit’s blue face into the light-source
        plunging its red face into deep darkness     its green face into mirrors
        three flags covert in the spectrum     no discernible relation to any tree, ever
        no moving creature near it     its existence an education
        china dish, immobile     knives and forks, immobile     milk, immobile     a Sunday of the aristocracy
        in that moment of enjoyment     its heart-broken juices are linked to a troupe of bears
        but those bears have yet to come together     right now a thousand miles away they’re asleep under trees
        dreaming of this diamond     full of unsweet, broken-hearted juices
        
        1994
        


        Rivers

        there are many rivers in the mountains where I grew up
        in deep gorges they flow
        they rarely catch a glimpse of sky
        there are no expansive sails hoisted high over their surfaces
        nor huge flocks of river gulls drawn on by boat-songs
        it’s only when you’ve climbed endless ridges and hills
        that you hear this river sound
        it’s only on rafts made of great tree-trunks lashed together
        that you dare ride upon these waves
        some areas will stay forever unknown to humankind
        the freedom of those places belongs to the eagles alone
        in the rainy season the waters turn brutal
        gale winds on the high plateau push boulders down into valleys
        mud dyes the rivers red
        as if the mountains were actually bleeding
        only when it’s calm
        do you see the plateau’s bulging veins
        those people who live on either side of these rivers
        may never come to know of one another’s existence
        but wherever you go in the place I grew up in
        you will here people talking about these rivers
        as if discussing their gods
        


        Speed

        the people planting potatoes are infected by dawn
        infected by the sun as it rises
        quickly they work     the world is quick at this time
        quickly the dew dries     quickly the field voles scamper off
        at times like this you need to be quick     labourers
        are quick to remove their jackets     to bare their arms
        a whole day's work depends on a good morning start     this is how
        primary school teachers educate their students     they
        react with speed     the invisible world in their classrooms
        the morning’s Chinese lesson     is understood on paper as
        a few     set phrases left over from yesterday
        at dusk     the world slows right down
        the ranks of the earth slow down facing westwards
        formations of corn-fields and low hills
        formations of rivers and forests
        formations of villages and sunflowers
        everything slows down facing westward
        all those shadows dragged over things slow right down
        like silk wrapped round the body of night
        slipping away, bolt by bolt
        the potato planters     carrying their tools
        mingle with the kids coming home from school
        they walk slowly over the uplands
        home ahead of them     not worried about time
        the children dawdle
        no more homework to do
        the adults dawdle
        because the potatoes have all been planted
        they’re all so slow
        as if the earth had somehow got into their bodies
        but those things planted at speed
        have in no sense slowed down     nor have they ever gained speed
        incapable both of speed and slowness
        they’ve simply begun   and all they have to do is grow
        is be     from morning to night
        from spring to autumn
        neither hurried nor slow     right to the very end
        


        The Naming of a Crow

        from somewhere invisible the crow kicks aside blocks of autumn cloud with its toes
        and dives into the sky in my eyes hung with the wind and the light
        the sign of the crow sulphur brew of a nun of black night
        croaking and piercing a hole in a flocking bird mattress
        to perch on a branch in my heart
        just as in the days of my youth conquering crows’ nests in the treetops of my home town
        my hands will never again touch that autumn landscape
        hands scaling another tall tree intending to pluck another crow
        from its darkness
        crow once it was a kind of bird meat a pile of feathers and entrails
        now a desire for narrative the impulse to speech
        and perhaps it is self-consolation in the face of adversity
        escape from a mass of inauspicious shadow
        this kind of labour is invisible compared to childhood days
        reaching with my bravest hand into black nests full of pointed beaks this is even more difficult
        when a crow perches in the wilds of my heart
        what I wish to give voice to is not is symbol not its metaphor or its mythology
        what I wish to give voice to is crow just as in years gone by
        I never found dove in a crow’s nest
        since childhood my hands have been covered in the thick calluses of language
        but as a poet I have never given voice to a crow
        
        with the circumspection and far-sightedness of age proficiency in various inspirations styles and rhymes
        just as when one begins to write dipping the brush deep into the ink-well
        I thought that the syllables had to be drenched in black from the very start to handle this crow
        skin flesh and bones the flows of the blood as well as
        the flight-paths disclosed in the sky all drenched in black
        a crow begins in this blackness in flight towards an outcome drenched in black
        from the moment of birth it enters into solitude and prejudice
        into universal persecution, pursuit and capture
        no bird it is crow
        in a world full of evil every single second
        ticks its ten thousand pretexts in the name of the forces of light or beauty
        guns are trained on this living representative of the powers of darkness and fired
        but for all that it cannot escape beyond the bounds of crow-being
        neither fly higher encroaching on eagle territory
        nor condescend to the lowly realm of the ants
        cave-maker of the skies both its own black hole and black drill-bit
        on high and alone from the heights of a crow
        it sets a course according to its bearings its time its passengers
        it is one happy-go-lucky big-mouthed crow
        and outside it the world is a mere fabrication
        no more than the boundless inspiration of crow
        you people the vastness of the land and the sky the vastness beyond the vastness
        you people Yu Jian and ensuing generations of readers
        are nothing but food in the nest of a crow
        
        I thought that a few dozen words would be enough to handle this crow
        description has made it a black box in words
        but I do not know who holds the key to the box
        who thinks up secret codes in crow-darkness
        in another description it appeared as a priest wearing puttees
        beneath the mighty walls of Heaven, this holy one in search of an entrance
        but I know now that the abode of the crow is closer to God than the priest’s
        perhaps while perched on the spire of a church one day
        it saw the fair body of the Nazarene
        when I describe the crow as a swan nourished on the everlasting blackness of night
        the actual bird shining with the light of a swan flies past that radiant swamp beside me
        and at once I lose all faith in this metaphor
        I attach the verb to descend to its wings
        yet it soars to the Ninth Heaven like a jet
        I call it taciturn and it immediately comes to rest on wordless
        as I look at this lawless wild witch-bird
        a swarm of verbs is drawn to my head crow verbs
        I cannot utter tongue fastened down with rivets
        I see them speeding up into the sky vaulting
        diving down into the sunlight then gathering again above the clouds
        leisurely and carefree forming crow-motion pictures
        
        that day like a hollow-hearted scarecrow I stood in an empty field
        and all my thoughts were steeped in crow
        I clearly sensed that crow felt its dark flesh
        its dark heart but I could not escape the sunless fortress
        as it soared so I soared
        how would I ever get back out of crow in order to catch it
        that day when I looked up into the blue sky each crow was already drenched in darkness
        a corpse-eating crowd I should have turned a blind eye earlier in the sky of my home town
        I stalked them once so innocent then
        a whiff of the stink of death and I’d panic and loosen my grip
        as for the sky I should have kept my eyes on the skylarks white cranes
        how I love and understand those beautiful angels
        but one day I saw a bird
        an ugly bird the colour of crow
        hanging from the grey ropes of the sky
        with mangled legs stiff and straight as the limbs of a puppet
        in crooked flight on the slopes of the sky
        circling a centre of some kind out tracing
        an enormous insubstantial circle
        and I heard a chorus of ominous cawings
        suspended somewhere out of sight
        and I wanted to say something
        to declare to the world that I was not afraid
        of those invisible sounds
        


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