Seventeen Poems

by Meng Lang, translated from the Chinese by Denis Mair


Two gardens not far from each other
Crash together in a storm, making a noise

The room in each of the gardens
Rises on the tips of succulent plants
Or closes its inner eye in the trumpet of a flower

Two people looking out from different windows
The true owners of each garden
Stand side by side in the same room

Two people, having no wish or motive for dialogue
Wind blows away their first innocent speech:
“Let’s go walking, two sinners that we are!”

Another gust of wind—gust of accustomed desolation
Arms of the two owners are linked, tied into a knot
Two guiltless gardens, making way for each other
Carelessly injured by some gardener’s clippers


Lines are very thin, like lifelines

Loose ends spread too far, the explorer
holds one helplessly

The dance of ropes in air delineates
Beautiful curves
Reining in a powerful horse
Or the loud cries from my throat

I have discovered more important ends
Spread even wider

A criminal climbs up one of them
Without a thought for the weight of his body

One man among mankind is only a trifling feather
The loose ends lead to something

The explorer climbs along one of them. He is climbing
up his lifeline.


Go into a fallen leaf to follow after autumn
Down a long deserted street
Walk farther than a human being

Sad days that hang from tall trees shed their leaves
But in whose heart do I hang painfully?

A long street leans into the breeze
What road could more resemble a bare tree trunk
Filled up inside with hollow cries?

Reach out to touch the sky’s blue features
Pressed by her own strength into a curve
A lone leaf getting lower, approaching life’s limit

I reach out my hand, raising a fallen leaf
As if at a burial, I offer it to a city’s solemn sleep

No one wakens! No one wakens!
Like a human being, I’ll walk this long empty street to the end!


School children in a rickety room are silent
An old blackboard stands before them
To provide their lifetime view into the distance—

The blackness of the blackboard
Grabs hold of their entire purity

The new teacher is you
The first lesson may well go right into the future
And so, children rub with all their energy
The black of the blackboard—can it be made blacker?

This happens for one reason, for the sake
Of a little more light, just a little more
But a crack in the roof lets through
All the gloom of this world and the sky

You have not shown up
The classroom itself begins to speak
Reluctant to prophesise itself as a pile of ruins!

School children in the rickety room are silent
Silence opens a window on their youthful viscera


Round beetle from a head of cabbage
Climbs to the barren top of an electric pole
Fearsomely, it stands erect, on ballet tiptoes

The root cellar this winter holds many idea-corpses
Folk proverbs are still feuding shamelessly
Resonant poetic lines fraternise with siren screams
The round beetle from the head of cabbage
Turns away embarrassed

The electric pole stands alone, with no urge to transmit current
The wind snaps the electric wires
Wires lash about and enwrap the electric pole
Where is the pole’s neck? Where can it be strangled?

The thread of hope shines into the moonlit cell
The prisoner returns from picking cabbages, with beetles in his arms
They still talk of faith fallen everywhere on the ground:
Electric pole, you may fall down in honour
Beetles, leave the earth’s surface blessedly in our embrace
Ideas, whatever happens, you must survive this winter

Beetles in a head of cabbage
Misunderstood, distorted, injured


Great wrong-way traveler, he is creating his road
Those left-behind ones are the crowd, too many for counting

Great wrong-way traveler, bounding away from them
At the first step causing traces of the crowd to disappear

The way he gets off track alone
Baffles a world of maps and road-signs

Great wrong-way traveler, with a finicky attitude
Faces the road that rushes heedlessly toward him

Great wrong-way traveler, at last has made his decision:
The onward crusade is his road home, the onward crusade leads home

Great wrong-way traveler, he is putting his road through trials
Ah wrong-way traveler in duress, he is helping his road succeed


The man stands opposite a nation
Thoughts of going nuclear
Bring his finger to a button on his jacket

Thoughts of going nuclear
By a man facing fruit that is utterly exposed

The man stands opposite a nation
He has blanked out
His jacket a withered bloom that hangs
From the limp crook of his elbow

The border guards of a nation
Concerned with the buttons on travellers’ clothes
Forbid the passage of nervous nuclear notions

The man is concerned with border guards
Past whom the notion of going nuclear now carries
A basket of luscious apples to the opposite nation


Ton after ton of steel
Ton after ton of young couples
Are dumped into love

Pressed against the coldness of an inner wall
Moonlight slips into the depths of a well

In the peaceful sky
A gush of tender blood flows by
Like the rosy glow of sunset
Abrading the cheek of a man and woman
Who have survived until now
The peaceful sky, white as blank paper
Cannot last through howling wind

Ton after ton of death
In a man’s and women’s bodies
Spending a honeymoon


Mistake performed at iced-over concert
Great piano, slides toward abyss
Piano lid already raised

Divinely aided hand is wind
Stones chased by sandstorm press down keys
Judgment day is no more than this

Within the abyss shine beams of light
Veiled soprano like Heaven rising

Cliff-edge blocks my way
Plunge to decadence not wholly in my sight
My body stands among greater dangers

Song lofts itself zenith-ward
Someone masked floats to settle beside me
Day of judgment no more than this

Abyss can pull shut its two-leafed door to confiscate
Every voice from the choir of naked beasts


An upraised arm holds the Motherland high
Hanging down, it lets the Motherland go
Your secret outcry is the public silence
This public silence, your secret wish
It is yourself made into a public offering

It is out in the open, already out in the open
Motherland’s disease in the bodies of youth
Motherland’s stupor in the bodies of youth
Young people, your hospital has gotten beyond you

An upraised arm gathers in the Motherland
Hanging down, it puts the Motherland in place
Your secret, young ones, your secret
Why you don’t waken once again

Over the upraised arm is your sky
Where the arm lowers is your land
Out in the open, already open, the Motherland herself
Prepares to push you into the hospital’s last ward


Silence in China, this open book
Blown in high wind to make crackling sounds
As if from touching a huge electric current
As if the current sends out showers of sparks

From time heaped up since awakening
I have pulled out this book ten thousand pages thick
Right away through the air I see
10,000 pairs of pure wings growing

They will soon be charged with current, they will
surely blaze with light
Silence in China, being openly published
Openly propagandising, openly agitating
Its ten thousand pairs, yes ten thousand pairs of pure wings


For harvest make ready the threshing ground
For the threshing ground make ready the farmers
For farmers make ready the soil
For the soil make ready sowing, tilling and harvesting

For harvest prepare plenty of joy
For the threshing ground prepare plenty of noise
For farmers prepare plenty of sweat and laughing looks
For the soil prepare plenty of sowing, tilling and reaping

Even so, for the harvest prepare pillage
Even so, for the threshing ground prepare emptiness
Even so, for the farmers prepare sacrifice
Even so, for the soil prepare barrenness

Even so, in the season of sowing the farmers give off smoke
In the season of tilling the farmers catch on fire
In the season of harvest the farmers have turned to ash


Tower of skirts, the tower of skirts is spinning
This is my own dizziness.

The office which sells office suites has been neglected
For five cruel years this will continue.

The city—its horse’s head has been pressed down by someone
Sounds of neighing issue from a nightclub.

Dancing girls walk up toward the open sky,
Ah yes, it is I, towering into the clouds.


Apple, passionate apple
In place of iron, you enter our lives to ache and rust

Apple, sorrowful apple
Apple ignored near the lips of the poet writing

Our lives in a personnel carrier, heavily armored
Have a bright red apple parked in front

Apple, so cool under the skin
We are up in the tree with her, swinging the months away

Apple, now stricken by illness
No other reason for a knife to slice the affections

Ah, the blood surging in our lives
So calm is my apple, always the last to fall behind me


When onrushing soul goes much too fast
I do not hesitate to jump off the train
I do not fear becoming a bloody mess

It’s better to be flesh and blood

Perhaps my bodily envelope is really the train car
The train car wants to jump off
What can the passengers do?

I am not the engineer
Or I would slam on the brakes
Upending the soul from its seat

The impact would give the soul some bruises
That would be a long time fading
That would cause lingering pain

The engineer’s arthritis is known by none
When the wheels stop turning
I see one of them is my own calm face

Taking a hard look at the smashed-up world express


Gunfire goes off in a faraway place
As I stand in front of a whispering wall
Where tragic shadows take grand falls

Silent film star in the thick of life
Permitted no increase of hot blood!

Gunfire in a faraway place
Melody sung from spent casings
Comes riding on white clouds

Unknowing children chase tracer beams;
Part the screen and hide within a movie

Gunfire in a faraway place
The shooters are in a daze

Their camcorder eyes peep into everything
And make crude sweeping motions
I flee beyond the sweep of any lens

Gunfire in a faraway place
Again our world goes to waste too soon

The new protagonists have blank eyes
The cinema—this beast—has already darkened
Destruction—the silence—plants itself relentlessly


In a distant view, China has disappeared!

People mill about in panic
The terrible news is circulating everywhere
They say “Better to be nearsighted, nearsighted!”

And so they wear glasses to read the newspaper
The newspaper is nicely printed
A map of all China—
Mountains, rivers, heaths and roads.
And all the cities, towns and villages
Are flexing themselves with all their might
Bulging up from the newspaper:

“China has not disappeared!”
“China has not disappeared!”

The map lets out a howl
A gust of wind rises
Blowing out of the reader’s hands
It tumbles like a sheet of wastepaper
All across the great land of China.

In a distant view, a sheet of wastepaper gets outside of China.

January-March 1995 (this poem was written around the time when Meng Lang was invited to Brown University as visiting writer)

Meng Lang孟浪(1961-2018) (author) joined China’s underground poetry scene in his native Shanghai during the 1980s. Under increasing pressure from the state for his involvement with both the artistic and political avant-garde, he left China in 1995 to become Writer in Residence at Brown University. Meng Lang went on to co-found the Independent Chinese PEN Center and to publish over ten collections of poetry.
 Dedicating his life to the pursuit of freedom and democracy, he was instrumental in planning annual commemorations of the Tiananmen Square Massacre in the US and Hong Kong.

Denis Mair (translator) holds an MA in Chinese from Ohio State University. He was a research fellow at Hanching Academy in Taiwan and is currently translator for Jidi Majia, Secretary of the Chinese Writers Association. He has translated books by the monk Shih Chen-hua, the philosopher Feng Youlan, and the art critic Zhu Zhu. His poetry translations include: Jidi Majia, Rhapsody in Black: Poems (Oklahoma); Jidi Majia, Shade of Our Mountain Range (Mkhiva Foundation); Luo Ying, Memories of the Cultural Revolution (Oklahoma); Jidi Majia, From the Snow Leopard to Mayakovsky (Kallatumba Press); and Yang Ke, Two Halves of the World Apple (Oklahoma). 

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