from Summer Song

Chen Li


Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
A sudden thought of midsummer: your face feels like
an overflowing goblet, the eyes of eagles and stars are fruit
burst open, their Bluetooth vision swiftly delivers the wet, hidden
verse of the silver river, the jade pond, the amethyst lagoon.
I sit on the rocks of a low and dry ravine, waiting for
your five senses to blend into tears, snot, sweat, and drool,
to inundate me and turn me into a stream in midsummer night’s
dream. Maybe the next dusk, stunned by the news of
a distant double cyclone, I would mistake you for a latent vortex.
A teeming storm system is brewing inside my chest. Ready for
the tempest in the teapot, I command my mouse, deploy the letters
and phonetic symbols on my keyboard to battle against you.


Time battles against me, yet with your troops’
rigorous tactics, their fireworks of words and
labyrinth of scents leave the enemy in a daze.
Is the form that uses my hands to edit scenes, or
the content involving you and love’s pain and joy,
or both, that deters the enemy from underestimating
us? The scorching sun, the ice-cold watermelon,
are they adversaries or allies? The reckless youth,
the sophisticated sage, are they the same person?
Perhaps my opponent is myself. Time is
a big soccer stadium where I must kick
the perfectly round fruit to score a goal while
handling the endlessly rotating earth to intercept. 


Reinforcing me from behind, your voice-typing strategy
captures the four corners and four seasons in a net of whispers.
Only you can perceive the quivers of butterfly wings in spring,
of new animal hairs in autumn, and discern winter insects,
summer grasses, autumn moons, spring rivers, and
the millennial passages that slip through the rugged coastlines.
Typed, saved, repeatedly copy-and-pasted, edited nature/writing.
Time negotiates with you, cutting space into sheets of A4 paper
and subcontracting it to us: it charges interest, we work with
interest. During the contract term, in the event of outsourcing
any foreign language editions to a third party, the interests will be
equally divided between the two parties. Isn’t that interesting?
Two opposing sides share out the interests, thanks to you.


In front of the hill on a summer night, the pling-plong
rattle of mahjong tiles echoes. Are the players the gods who
arrived by riding the prevailing winds of east, south, west, north,
and hewed a square gaming table out of a rock? They shuffle,
stack, draw, and discard the tiles. They ask the nearby geyser and
waterfall to wash all the tiles in the square fortress of their game.
Pling-plong, pling-plong . . . An outdoor battle, deities having fun in
the mundane world. Of course, they know about the mahjong ghost
but there’s nothing they can do. Gamble and be prepared to lose—
a respectable custom, a basic right of humans and ghosts. The gods
scatter the flower tiles of plum, orchid, mum, and bamboo, which
become evergreen, swaying in the wind. They play eight rounds
in divine speed, fast as downing a bowl of four-deity soup.


Sounds of the waterfall you reformatted into crack troops
or crushed ice, mixed with soft, slippery gelatin:
“Chilled aiyu jelly, chilled grass jelly, shaved ice with
green mung beans . . .” The peddler’s chants come from
the celestial stairway, cool as water. The beans spring to life and
become soldiers. Red mung beans and condensed milk sprinkled
on shaved ice, a treat for the Red Guards. Coffee-morphine
frappe, the imperial guards’ favorite, excellent in praise and taste,
coveted summer after summer. Artistic snow flower ice with
apricot kernel milk and arsenic, reserved for the daring knights of
heaven. Yet this isn’t a night market for the divine, but
the anniversary of Summer King and Night Queen’s union:
Summer Night’s blow-away shaved ice giveaways! 


Dispersed by flash drives and memory cards,
a Xia Dynasty legend survives. One summer morning,
a rainstorm came to a stop. After the flood receded, bits and pieces
were recovered: the poems “Nine Debates” and “Nine Songs,”
the dances and leaps of fairy-looking girls on summer nights.
How I wish they never grew old! Or, as their bodies turned around
and landed on the paper, let me wrap them up with a poem
just as young. I guarantee that all your generations will fall in love
with them at first sight, each time with fresh eyes, as if
they would always be virgins who never are in love or pledge
their love, and vibrant butterflies that never encounter a collector—
because they spin anytime, anywhere and are always by our side,
because they are the lightest flashes of memories . . .

translated from the Chinese by Elaine Wong