Translation / December 2013 (Issue 22)

Imprisonment in the Wooden Building

by Anonymous, translated by Michael Gray

I'm thinking of gnawing snow and eating felt
like Su Wu, who remained loyal to the Han dynasty;
And the king of Yue, who lay on firewood and ate gall
and made known his hatred of the Kingdom of Wu.
The ancients repeatedly faced rough lives,

and older generations difficult challenges.

Their names can be found in the annals.

They rose against the barbarians,

so as to know their deep concerns

and resolved their lifelong desires.

Alone I wait, down on my luck,

having suffered many a setback in this life.

Disheveled, I floated from a foreign land
and face unending imprisonment as at Youli;
on leaving my homeland,
I spilled tears of exhaustion.
On arrival in America,
I passed the vast and endless sea;
the boat moored at the dock,
then turning, pushed toward Island’s lonely shore.
It left the pier, now ten li away,
leaving room for a lonely mountain.
The three-story wooden house
is unyielding as the Great Wall.
How many times does the sentry
pass the long and narrow north gate?
My compatriots number in the hundreds,
homeless exiles in a time of disaster;
A half thousand of our yellow race,
we are worried, like the sparrows of Miluo.
Sometimes we lift our heads to gaze afar,

the foreigners are colluding,
our melancholy increases;
our ears turn to listen,

like herdsman we cry mournfully,
and each time I feel more senseless.
Every day we eat thick bean paste and curdled milk,
following Yan Hui’s meal: a basket of rice and a gourd of water.
Night covers us like a sheet of felt,
the same feeling when holding up mourning clothes.
In the early morning we wash our faces and clothes,
everywhere are salty waves.
When it is time to drink,
we find nothing but muddy waters.
In this distant wasteland, water and earth are deficient.

We drink. Those with coughs are countless.

We sip. Those with sore throats are many.

There are hundreds of reasons for disease,
but this misery is hard to explain.
At times, some anger the barbarians,
and we are given kicks and punches.
They suddenly harden their hearts,
pointing guns at us.
They count us every day
like the king of Qin inspecting the troops.
We are surrounded by mounted troops.
The brilliant scheme of Han Xin still lives.
Brothers, no one can speak a word
with these distances between our hometowns;
Friends and family wish for some common feelings,
but each day we meet then leave.
We must deal with this current state.
We appeal to the gods, yet they do not hear;
We must enter these rooms,
calling to the earth, but the earth does not respond.
For now, the trees shade the outside of our prison,
where hundreds of birds wail in grief;
The layers of red clouds cover the front of the mountain,
where a thousand animals run wild.
This is the world of trees and stones,
where deer and wild boars wander.
Alas! Alas!

It is a nostalgic scene,
how the desolation fills my ears.

It is hard not to worry about past times.
What about our fate?

There are those who suffer more, their pulses felt many times. Even an absence of illness
feels like a presence of illness.

Their private parts were examined repeatedly. Although they were clothed, they seemed naked.

Quanrong, may I ask, how is this treatment much better?

How wretched is my life. Yet, there is nothing else.

Although I scrape down to the root of Nan Shan,
I write and yet am troubled by my words;
Even if I exhaust the whole East Sea,
my mind is not clear of its shameful state.
At the time when Emperor Min of Jin served wine at the court of Di,
he did not decline the embarrassment of wearing green clothes;
when the Xiongnu surrounded the Han army,
Li Ling already made known his grievances.
The ancients valued this way of life,
but are modern people unable to bear such loss?
This state of affairs compels us
but how do we respond?
We cannot lie low and wait,
yet escape is merely a fantasy.

The white people hold the power,
while yellow people suffer tragedy.
They yell at us like lost dogs,
violently entering our cages;
we are pigs chased into baskets,
the rigor of our locks increases.
Our souls are lost in a snowy cellar,
we are treated no better than oxen or horses;
our tears fall like ice from the sky,
truly we are not equal to birds or fowl.
Since I arrived at this end of the ocean,
my temperament allows me the pleasure of reading newspapers.
They say our place of origin
is now split like beans and cut like melons.
I feel pity for our cultured country,
whom wolves swallow and tigers engulf.
(Section omitted in original version)

I am about to witness four hundred years of the Chinese people
reduced to slaves for countless nations;
This is a history spanning five thousand years. I fear we may become like India, in peril.

This is truly sad.

How can I not speak out? 
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