Three Poems

Xiao Kaiyu

Wildflowers in full bloom float on the black
sandpaper of this night, white ones, yellow ones,
swaying to the sweep of the incoming murk.

They sway in a radiant and lucent landscape
with birds gathered in dreary evening council.
Ah, the playing of an Er-hu pierces the ink painting.

Just the sort of requiem to rouse her, so she’d
rise from the oppression of wildflowers, rise,
and reclaim the space occupied by amnesia.
Rhetoric has replaced a living room crammed with mouths.
Hunger skills have replaced a kitchen stacked with cookbooks.
Lessons in ethics have replaced a bedroom strewn with underwear.

With a renewed and generous solemnity, she
appears to loom near the leafy and shifting
hedge. Did her face betray a tormented smile?

The moisture underneath is the earth sweating,
the wildflower roots wriggle deep into earth’s bones, maggots
crawling up to devour the last bit of fortitude I relied upon.

On the surface, the dead persist in sacrificing themselves.
In fact, it is the living who die yet again.
A glorious transformation of the system.

Please return to the frigid sweat of the hillside,
amid the slackened self-control of the unconscious,
where instead you can make judgments and not just muddle on.

Mao Zedong

To shave away all the color and style of bureaucratic red tape,
to make the great person of accurate contents
show preference for silvery gray—the color of clouds—and indigo—
                    the color of sea
—to project a prim appearance
of grand manner. He likes this kind of country.

The badge of the sun is fastened to his forehead,
dangling over a sea of people.
The vast reality, forged steel right out of the cauldron,
builds the hazy square, infinity interlaced with finitude,
around the ramparts and tower
of purple gold, but in fact they are made of clay.

Newspapers cheer the ideal victory,
the tidewater rises lawlessly,
millions of heartfelt hurricanes provoke banners to flutter.
Waves of boat masts lead the seawater to rise,
the sea is only boat hulls and the sea bottom.

He sleeps in a swimming pool filled with ancient texts,
a renovated workshop, looking into the air,
speaking short incomprehensible sentences.
Unfathomable ideas are concealed in stiff reeds of utterance,
The soldier’s language comes from an imperceptible battlefield, but who can
                    understand it?

The Grassy Slope

The slanting grassy slope had the tone of a lamb,
free, bright, melodious as a brass instrument.
I was there in silent meditation, under the three-foot high rocky shore,
the crystalline stream, flowing among the carp.

A herdboy led along a water buffalo, sometimes an ox.
Before the good grass, the beasts were rapacious and gentle.
The grass once eaten grew back even lusher than before.
He was thinking of happy things but singing The Tune of the Mulberry.

A girl came walking toward me with fruit and flower seeds
in both arms, a young landlord following behind.
We played some simple games to make him happy
and teach him a little. He would rather be catching butterflies.

Suddenly, fishing birds flew up and landed at her feet,
grappling for food; it was a shock to me.
In a book about original sin, I read of the measure
of beauty, the only Helen in the realm.

Ah, summer, with the corn stretching down the riverbank,
where did the resplendent woman and river full of children
run off to hide? The autumn wind came on with a vengeance,
the river instantly turned cold, the willows wizened and died.

Air penetrates one’s flesh and like a sparkling paring knife
Shaves the burden from my body.
How light must one’s thoughts become in order to fly?
I reclined, polishing a pebble in my palm.

translated from the Chinese by Christopher Lupke