from Doubled Shadows

Ouyang Jianghe


In the quiet of your living room we talked for an hour.
Wide vistas, transparence. Always
at times like these, I look back, see—
a beautiful face flashes
and is gone. An hour of winter
reflected in sunset. We say our goodbyes.
Outside, it's getting dark. Lights
are on in your house, and in all the other houses.

To have seen that face: such pain,
such joy. So many faces before, each
its own kind of incoherent and brief.
An hour is enough: living room
leads to kitchen, to a small cold hand
laying out plates for a meal years before
I reached out my hand to touch
your silver tableware.

Hour of silver, hour of chill.
Face flashes and is gone.
Always at times like these I look back—
The room is bright. A beautiful face
is not a thing that light can reveal.
Deep-hidden face, soundless conversation
in shadow. A single hour—
ten years ago, would we have talked all night?

An hour's tenderness, held back like tears.
The years I have left will speed faster
than this hour. To vanish
is happiness: Flash, face. Be gone.
Always at times like these,
darkness falls. A child pouts,
and someone taps at the door.

Key to Sunday

A key glints in the Sunday morning light.
A returning traveler is locked out in the dark.
A knock on the door is always more faint
than the rasp of metal in the keyhole.
Only a dreamed address is reliable.

As I bike down a quiet street
all the headlights go out at once.
In the night sky above, a hand clenches a brake.
I hear a clink. A key has fallen to the ground.

I see a ring of keys, keys of years past
glinting in the light. I pick them up.
But where are the hands that hide behind them?
A row of closed days, ending in Saturday—
but I do not know which to unlock.

Now it is Sunday. All the doors on the street
stand open. I toss the keys away.
No need to knock. Just walk right in.
Such a crowded world, and no one at home.

Station in the Air

In the afternoon of my journey
I see, in the distance
lights of a station glittering like wolf's eyes.

A town: we should arrive before nightfall.
In the city where I'm going, there is no night.
An officer's desk commands an empty square,
the people are statues in the streets,
faces of spies darken like rainwater
in hurried brush-strokes. The whistle sounds.
The train, empty, pulls out of the station:
I missed my departure time.

Atop the superstructure there is a garden.
Above the garden there is a station in the air.
A flight of stairs leads up out of my vision.
A journey ends in the seat across from me.
And in a city I've never been to, a wild open-air banquet
rages till dawn, a wind that has blown all night
ceases, and letters and dossiers rain from the sky.

In the afternoon of my journey, I see a station
high above the superstructure, high above the square.

Picasso Paints a Bull

Over the course of the next two weeks Picasso will paint a bull.
A bull whose body seems possessed by a strange reality:
the more Picasso paints, the less there is.
"Can less"—the artist asks—"become more?"
"Right on," Picasso replies.
The critic waits to see the painter's more.

But Picasso's bull just keeps getting scarcer.
The hooves are first to go—then the horns,
then the skin itself drops off like a retina,
revealing the joints between empty spaces.
"How less does it have to get before it becomes more?"
"That depends on the name you give to more."

The critic is confused. "Would you say that in this work
you are committing moral violence on the bovine body,
shearing off every scrap of flesh with your Mediterranean wind?"
"Don't blame the wind—look at that butcher shop
across the way. Every day I watch lovely young ladies
walk home with a few dozen pounds of his meat."

"Whose meat? The meat of the bull on your canvas?"
"Now that depends on which knife you use."
"Is this a contest between the ethics of aesthetics and the ethics of life?"
"All cut up, how'd he have energy for that?"
"And what's left over? Anything?"
"No, no spirit remains. Praise waste."

"Is your bull an act of subtraction upon the world?"
"Why not addition? I imagine that butcher is
counting his cash right now." Sure enough, the next day,
the butcher's wife comes with her life savings to buy Picasso's bull.
But all she sees are a couple of lines.
"Where's the bull?" she asks, indignant.

translated from the Chinese by Austin Woerner

Ouyang Jianghe's Doubled Shadows will be out in bookstores in Mar 2012.

Click here for more information about the book.

Click here to read the Special Feature: Wolfgang Kubin on Ouyang Jianghe.

Click here to read an essay by the translator, Austin Woerner, on translating Ouyang Jianghe.