from The Wild Great Wall

Zhu Zhu

on reading mrs. mandelstam’s memoir 

a belated book. if i’d read it earlier,
a filament in my pupils would have gone off, the vocal cords
turning transparent in the dark, rhyming with purgatory.
there was always a little giant with a thoughtful female listener,
bearing all else for the ear’s felicity: hunger,
fear, and her own life; there were always encounters in hallways
upon leaving early, to borrow a lighter, to mock
and laugh marching to the reverse side of the era. watch out,
your cinders splashed onto my skirt. no,
that was the big hole burned in the screen of public consent.
dare we walk further? where? do you want me
to shoot another bullet at the kremlin?
no, my dear, learn to let yourself go,
no more can i be in your company, i must stay,
and become a wraith of reality, casting echoes.


a day of rush, itinerary delayed
by getting lost. we study the map and forget
we are already in those pensively charming
streets and structures, roaming oblivious
through its newly recovered anonymity.

perhaps this is what florence longs for,
otherwise it would not close its churches so often
leaving tourists on the steps and in the square;
with magnificent marbles it walls off a somber quietude,
in the interior of a closed church, secreting emptiness.

every place corresponds to a person’s image,
florence reminds me of an old lady,
standing behind thick violet curtains
looking outward, mouth tilted in ironically, in her living room
hangs a small privately-owned botticelli.

i worry about her restraint, whenever people
praise our ancient art yet insist
that the chinese today should only write political poetry—
in their imagination, aside from the bloodshed
we do not deserve to seek beauty like artists before us,

nor do we have the right to indulge in the mundane and song,
in sharp spasms of morality, in the endless folds
of history, the touch of a life becomes
estranged from itself, and is reduced
to footnotes of hardships and inhumane colonies.

thus i would prefer that florence be brightly open,
flat and even, like a plate in an open air café,
that waitress who comes to serve our desserts
slowing her steps as she notices us staring at her skirt,
looks like a fluffy-haired overripe beatrice—

afternoon sunlight unloads the weight of every tree,
the capillaries of leaves expand in the wind, and their shadows
pass over our foreheads and turn into another linger,
guards talk to themselves in the arched hallways, looking
from every museum window, it is beautiful out and out.

ancient city

               for hong lei

old enough to be carefree like your uncle,
hold a teapot, lie on a rattan bench under the eaves,
hands behind back leisurely watch the sky,
hum a little tune, tread along a rip-rap path.

yet you are still unsatisfied,
looking out from a window once coated
with years of dust, now newly cleaned,
you see that this small city is a boat tied fast to the bitt—

hills around it have completely solidified
their undulating waves, its docks
like industry’s abandoned wife, give way to railroads.
its people are shadowy mosses on the hull.

roving in the far metropolis you are tired
of the mad spinning of clock hands and the masts of interests clashing;
here, you are amazed at the void of the quotidian,
at the breaking for nothing of yet unwithered banana leaves under a clear sky.

what is yet to come folds in a prophetic page of tui-bei-tu
on afternoons of face-cooling breeze,
your only amusement has become
to rendezvous in halcyon times with ladies past their prime.

the tale of two cities

gliding before the billboards those seabirds
perhaps have never seen the vast continent,
except for the sea, no landscape to be seen
on the abrupt horizon; those high-rises
only reflect in each other, on their own glass
depicting the other as one steep ridge after another,
depicting the nightly traffic as one busy canal after another.

everyday i merge with tides of people through a revolving door,
along drizzling streets in search of a dreamscape long gone,
yet, like through every cosmopolitan window—
i see some women, eyes aroused by dior
and growing sightless before other brands, i see
after lights go out, the ammunition dump of psychic pressure
still heaped on every desk in an office building.

only the old torch songs played by taxi drivers
and the old shops with traditional characters lined along sheung wan
dovetail with another hong kong in my mind,
a hong kong in a youngster’s daydream—
just a few recorded cassettes,
a few well-riffled girlie magazines
and kungfu movies in a smoke-filled house . . .

our starved senses greedily absorbed
these smuggled micronutritents
and fantasy welding done in the dark
assembled a faraway new world—
after long confinement, that place’s dialect
became fashion, like a command crossing lines of defense
until the whole mainland teetered toward being a smuggling craft

toward tsim shat sui—yes, i
attribute the first eruption of inner lava to hong kong,
i assign the eternal jetlag between a boy and a woman
to hong kong . . . this is why
i have never been yet feel like visiting again,
giddy in the revolving door, i do not know if it opens
to the future many years ago or the past many years away?

translated from the Chinese by Dong Li