Translation / December 2013 (Issue 22)

Two Poems

by Xiao Kaiyu, translated by Christopher Lupke

Homage to Du Fu (Part One)

This is another China.
          For what does it exist?
Nobody answered, and there was
          No echo of an answer either.
          This is another China.

It’s the same, three generations to a room
          An existence of reduced privacy
          Like a performance; the next generation
Is fashioned from a certain measured cruelty
          Dozing is a much-appreciated
          Shared time for mother and father
To learn the skill of pleasure, but it’s like a teacher
          Reciting from the textbook in a sequence of calls;
          Alas, it’s the same, people and cattle
          In the field pulling the plow tilling the land,
          Life is like enduring.

This is another China.
         To speak Chinese only to be ashamed,
When we are like beer, with ancient words
         Frothing up, it’s just
That there’s no sense of humiliation, and no honor either.
         Toothpaste, meat pie, the text
         Of new words and the essence of humanity
         Are idiotic titles just to change the taste
         In the mouth, who can say for sure
         That this is not just a cheap trick?

The familiar city is changing
          Into another city, with the same
          Sets of buildings, keeping
The minute scars (which from makeshift docks
          Are oozing with rotted blood)
A soap opera is broadcast on TV in each and every home
          A few people kill another, it lacks
          A sense of justice but it’s funny.
          (Speaking of “human nature,” the police believe,
          One must sleep for a while, restfully.)
          As for disclaiming the trick
There’s no hope for what we’ve said and are accustomed to,
          The authorities have prepared the most exquisite reasons
          To allow joy to rule the paperwork,

Alas, The grey swirls around me in Hebei,
          Shanghai and the Yangtze River -- --
          The electricity goes off, the heat goes off, the water goes off -- --
Distinguishing the tracks of gods and immortals,
          I’m lost in a trance of disdain and reverence
          I see another person.
Flames of red on the street were licking and devouring him
          That sexy kindling firmly proves that
This is another China.
          If pressed, we could call it the remnants of “China.”
But in the vegetable market, in front of the newspaper stands, in other
          Areas of secondary importance -- -- as if a miracle -- --
               The belief in life
Gets two Chinese citizens to communicate;
          On the side one man does needlework.

          Not reading your diaries,
          I condemn your muted anguish,
          (cutting flowers, growing grass, talking nonsense)
That elegance, a survivor’s accusation of being wronged,
          Becomes a seductive verdict,
          “Syntax, style,”
It’s just simply muck. I’m disgusted by
          The China you invented, a slow, lurching train,
          A patchwork of a filthy nation,
A shattered countenance in the mirror, all the people
          Endangering oneself, rising to the accolades,
          (The train passes by)

The partial magnification of suffering seen
          Through binoculars from atop mountains and roofs
Makes me more fierce than you ---- on the street
          I whine to the old man:
          Give us what you said you already gave us!
Give? That’s right, give. The old man leads
          The old reality, refusing
          Compromise, there’s no other way.
What I am facing is actually what I am lacking,
          Country, control, one day,
          And the ability to be free.

The twilight reasoning of the sparrows can cease!
          The philosophy of gliding dinosaurs,
          One must make allowances for the Chinese
Of the 1990s. They can’t worship silence.
          Translation is like a rash.
          It’s appropriate to avert the eyes,
Appropriate and still unnerving. Eh, the congregants
          Are melancholy and muddled, sitting in the dirt
          In front of the door; the children scream
As they go by; the shrill whistle of destiny
          Stifles their growth. Before they sleep,
          They read Comédie Humaine.

This is another China.
          It’s only for survival.
It’s not bureaucratic, in fact its anti-bureaucratic.
          In our lives it seems we
          Are hiding, but our
Goal is not to toil, and it’s not
          Therefore bending at the waist, talking to ourselves,
          Murmuring, “You, and how about you?”

On the Outskirts of Xi’an

On the way from Banpo to the Qin Tombs,
We arrived in the era promised by the oracle bone inscriptions.
This deep, dark forest epitomizes China,
Its beauty and starvation, spurred people to mount the back of
Lions and elephants, from east to west, from east to west,
Jetisoned in the bland and antiquated evening,
The tribal chieftains, fresh blood adorns the brickwork stairs.

In 1100 BCE, the immortals and the evil spirits
Descended on the battlefield, helping the warriors
Emerge victorious in spite of themselves, or end up in hell.

The capital carried with it sacrificial words tailing behind clouds,
Flitting from east to west on the trajectory of an arc.
King Zhou, the last of the Shang, gave his overweening bravery and
Homeland to the night, and the consort
Had invented a new posture,
The snow white strand pitched around lightly,
Oh, and another person came from the west,
Beseeching a fisherman (please worship the river,
The fish had predicted the future),
The fresh wind of morality had cleansed the area south of the Yellow River.

Bronze was twisted and molded for the heavenly spirits,
And it faintly wailed, “Don’t leave!”
No one left his humiliation,
His bearing praised the bearing of others,
The balmy spring, hot summer, cool autumn and cold winter,
There wasn’t an extraordinary dream to disturb
The peaceful, clear morning.
All the way to shredding the silk until it was no longer able
To win a woman’s laughter,
The blaze burned to a cinder (the fuzzy) ethics.
Confucius, a man from Qufu, because of the daybreak,
Was unable to reappear and drifted around as a result.

The Towering Palace, thanks to Loyang, was overgrown with weeds,
Peony blossoms overflowed the mouths here,
And the ears over there; on horseback, in one’s head,
The world on the tip of a tongue, how lovely!
Qu Yuan plunged into the river, Yu Boya shattered his zither,
Those who needed them were already dead.
The physician Bianque got to Xianyang and he died too.

Ying Zheng spread new carpets in Xi’an,
Violence had conquered the palace.
But the nerves of fear stood on end,
And stretched along the vulnerable great wall,
The fire of the written word ignited the bamboo slips, the silk and the beast hides.
The words burned the books, Li Si murdered Li Si,
The sumptuousness forced E-Pang Palace into ruins,
Just like the locusts helping him devour the various states,
Hu Hai used paper to wipe clean his autumn.

Xiang Yu arrogantly descended into tragedy,
With songs besieging him. Han Xin died,
Liu Bang fluttered back and forth in the corridor, the blood
Of blood relatives converged into one in the wind,
Liquid metals replaced the brave warriors.
Empress Dowager Lü forged those surnamed Lü into a bright sliver glow,
But could not overcome the fame of Jiang Qing.
Singing dirges, Liu Che saw Madame Li revive,
           And leaves stood in the threshold;
In his dreams, he stepped into a mirage,
Surveying the land, the yellow was quickly on the heels of the Xiongnu’s horse hooves.
King Mu of Zhou’s shadow bolted across the desert,
Like an eagle’s wings crossing the sky above the western region,
Hallucination forced open the eyes. Hallucination repeatedly swept clean the green grass.

Liu Bi and Wang Mang each independently saw
The river waters sweep clean the plain, people eating people.
They knew “The one who destroyed my family is the Crown Prince.”
The feet of Wen Zhong are still straddling the precipice, and imagine on four feet it takes flight.
It transfers their palaces,
Huo Guang still needed to be Wang Mang.

Horses neighed, speaking in a barbarian language, carrying along flecks of sand,
The spring colors fled to the Yangtze valley, fighting the Di and Qiang people,
And the Xianbei people learned to starve themselves to make their stomachs smaller.

Five hundred years of time withered the quick and fierce horseman
And the Han girl’s swaddling clothes rushed out, mastering the art of fanning oneself.
Yang Jian, of mixed origin, should thank Emperor Xiaowen of the Northern Wei,
The grandmother of the emperorused the mysterious breast
To nurture him, yet he went south.
Yang Guang, who remained lonely in Yang Zhou,
Later followed his will, Peach blossoms and lovely ladies
Betrayed him, a genius that
Obliterated itself, and in the end confessed,
“Who would decapitate one with such a fine head?”

Oh, Li Shimin, had a father who performed in accompaniment,
Your audacity made history into the Tujue dance:
History forgives you for hiding behind the door,
Compared to you, your brothers might be minor characters.
Three thousand court girls, four hundred death row inmates,
The drama of prison release might just be
Freedom in the bedding or more than that.
The Syrians, the Arabs, Persians,
The Tartars, the Tibetans, the Koreans,
The Japanese, and the Annan people all came to enjoy
This one hundred and ten block city of Chang’an,
The avenue from south to north, five hundred feet wide wide.
The left hand pats the husks of rice and the right caresses the mane of a horse.
Nets woven by birds hang and cover the city and villages,
From high in the pagodas,
The executive bureau, the legislative bureau and the examination bureau,
And they don’t obtain the golden stitched gown, the land
Captured by the Tang, the source of his own personal silver.

How do the fierce and atrocious from the west transform
Into the supple and slick from the west, how did Cao Cao transform
The west into the north? This city,
The vacancy after its loss, is an answer to the sojourner.
Wu Zhao – please don’t go back on the charisma of women —
Transforming the palace ladies into palace men, she and her daughter
Straddled a male consort, wielding the iron whip, the iron pot,
And wielding a dagger to subdue the arrogant ride.
Upbraiding her for bringing such a bounty, but the tears
Were shed for another woman. Her breath
Blew away the quaking fruits on the trees.
Trust in Bo Juyi, the rainbow casts
A promise in July and the love of two stars,
The first half of the night in a living room is
Higher than the fate of a distant, forgotten, golden state.

Don’t repair the temple anymore, hastily becoming a monk.
The grey tombs plucking the golden caps of the western people,
Shining the leisure of the dead, the salt merchants,
And those who have moved the capital linger on the exhausted road.
The people here are surrounded by grave mounds,
Festooned with wreathes of flowers, and they immerse
The baked buns into mutton stew. The rainbow shirt from the northwest wind
Brings with it a belt. Intense desire gives both the poor
And the wealthy cases of sciatica.
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