from First Person

Hsia Yü


Last time we met we named all our favorite authors

We rattled off their names so fast that in no time at all the only ones left were us

And when it was just you and I we huddled by the heater

A fully furnished flat including sheets and house plants for €700

O, the sheets were spotless

And there was a slanted skylight and snowflakes falling overhead

When I was young I would have spawned in a place like this


p.s. I think about those 400 lines Pound cut from Eliot, what would have happened had they fallen into the hands of John Ashbery

Or if Pound had come back and began hacking away at Ashbery’s work

John smiles at seeing Ezra wield his axe

Whole lines fall away like so many woodchips and the air becomes perfumed for it is first-rate wood

John scrambles to recover his lines, which, if you bothered to count them, would no doubt amount to 400


In their brand-new order, they form a right and proper Ashbery poem 

Any line of which could well be a new beginning


To never meet again is a pretty good idea

A good idea is quite enough, but putting it into practice belongs to a whole other sphere

A beautiful idea like this will give an impetus to poetry, the discovery of situationalism and the invention of distillation

Allows three or four people to share a joint outside a bistro

A bag of smuggled weed finally renders poetry’s materiality a little more concrete


The trouble is this poetry has got to be better than the very best weed

What I mean is it must be awfully good poetry or it’s all a total waste


She said, in music class they have a silent keyboard for practicing your fingering

Your hands absorb the notes, store them in the loops and whorls of your fingertips

And the only time you hear them is when you caress

I can hear them very clearly, O, what a beautiful sound system

And that wilderness from which I hear a faraway echo is my body, is it not?


I would like to say it is that thing we call remember

But it’s what we call forget


I once heard tell of a postal worker who abandoned a big bag of mail he was carrying

He said that it was filled with nothing but bills and subpoenas, parking tickets, junk mail and the like

The man became manically depressed at the knowledge that no one writes real letters anymore

In short, because we no longer write to each other, he was carted off to prison

In a 24-hour laundromat I switched to reading Dostoevsky


He’d have understood what it means to wash your dirty laundry with strangers

O look, we’ve accumulated more metaphors to use—now, no one will bother you, at least for awhile


That so many photos will be so lightly cast aside, I deeply sympathize with the disappointment of viewers

Like a cat in search of a cool and shady place to take a nap who finds a place satisfying to its nap

Such photos don’t pretend to offer viewers the sort of comforting imagery that gratifies their expectations

Might as well imagine a dying elephant that withdraws to somewhere nestled among the hills to await its final moment

The elephant leaves the herd and neither eats nor drinks in anticipation of its impending disintegration in the wild


Death in the form of an elephant hides itself away in order to mature and grow strong like any aloof and indifferent thing

I do not know if the sleeper passed away of a snowy evening because language is no longer inhabitable


A cardboard egg carton filled with eggs fills me with sadness

You need a dozen babies one after the other to fill a single carton

O, I’ve come across Mary, come across her here and there, come across her everywhere

Are you aware, I ask, that your baby will walk upon water?

Are you aware, I ask, that your baby will rise from the dead?


Mary, I said, will you look at that carton?

Mary, why is your baby on that cross?

translated from the Chinese by Steve Bradbury