The Western Days

Han Bo

Jet Lag

Back to back, two egos disputing
One vast oceanic mind—a quilt
Could be an analogy here—the water in the fishpond
Hibernates, silt slipping through the net, the selfish
Family clear-cuts their land of trees in the name of progress . . . but reminiscence
Is not a dinner party, rather it’s a country wife stretched to her limits,
Letting go, holding back, avoiding tax, her
Cheap plastic underpants agape to the north wind of discord, hometown
Vistas fade in distant lands’ rich days, while her wind of discord could
Inflate a hot air balloon, her husband with a resounding fart
Crosses the sea and heads east, despite lives lived in different rooms,
Death will be spent in the same grave, an active responsibility system
Seen from another angle is clear-cutting the land of standards.


The First Day

America, where beautiful endeavors unfurl like stripes on the flag,
Between two oceans, one isolated land,
Fat is a defensive measure under these stars.

Light rain, faint heart, small crowds unaligned,
Every transiting tourist carries a bomb:
A camouflaged apple, an incongruous act, a homeland.  
“On my coat the damp chill of dew”, a cold sweat as beams expose each scar, 
     Click — the sound of suspicion
     Thump — of sudden flesh
Confidential cases, hand-carried, open locks pried apart,
Pray to Allah: let there be light,
And there will be light; become a monk and seek enlightenment to see.

The Third Day 

Little bird,
Red garb, red crest,
Far from home I didn’t know you at first,
Looking like some mixed-up punk
Under the vine trellis.
Early autumn’s urgency sets clarity in motion, 
A dog’s clarity sets urgency in motion,
Interrogation of rocks,
Self-criticism by squirrels,
Another year, 
Of ripened fruit exploding their skins, 
The race to liberate the universe
Unifies the triggers that
Set this purple haze in motion.


National Flag

The clinic represents the motherland,
Beyond the gates, below the porch,
The wooden stars and stripes hang immobilized.
The garden represents the twin towers,
As the dentist chews his pork,
His soul is occupied with marigolds and hydrangeas, 
A clump on the left, a thicket on the right
Proliferating like international flights.
The cornfield represents the government,
Loose shirt, short pants,
Sentimental, bloated,
Light radiating in all directions, illuminating
The heights and depths, illuminating the distant allure
Of export subsidies with legs pried open.
Tooth decay represents the bride,
The trash can represents the marriage contract,
The Third World represents the wedding night.


The Seventh Day

Calm the nerves. Calm the mind.
Go to bed. The earth rises in the south east
Illuminating my frigid palace on the moon. The moon goddess graces the stage,
Armstrong retires, and the moon of science waxes
Then wanes. The sheets: craters of the moon.  

Detach the body. Detach the mind.
Get up to pee. The earth is relaxed and round.
From my pavilion near the water, one earth is worth a hundred stars.
Aliens analyze the vapors, and abduct the stinking
And decrepit.  Wet dream: another Sunday on that globe.


Slight Incline

The streetlamp is a mouth full of ashes
(the ashes of light at dusk)
Twisting and flickering, unanimously nullifying
The upright honesty of the legislature.  

The electric current in the sidewalk persists.
The spring in the jogger’s stride persists.
The roaming soul of the daydream persists.

“Fine grass ruffled by the breeze from shore”
Three righteous ones,
Travelling incognito observe from on high,
One poor,
One sick,
One sad,
A cruise missile soars overhead,
All trace of western paradise obliterated.


Hair’s Breadth

An apparition, a ghost on a reality trip
Defecating, urinating, moaning, coughing, and spitting
As it paces the innocent skies.

A tractor heads south, a single mother heads west,
Isolated mountain hermitage meets bustling intersection,
All in needless repetition. Dare to ask: can the boundless universe
Be contained in a hair’s breadth? Meanwhile the ghost goes with the flow,  
Overdue for reincarnation and still not enlightened,
Treating a headache with booze, drinking tea for a hangover,
Sick of tea trying marijuana, high on weed turning to rock and roll,
Sick of rock and roll, starting on the poems of Han Shan. It’s a ghoulish
Labyrinth to trap empty souls: reinforce the shore, reinforce the shore.
Imported trash, always ridiculing Hinayana. 

Distant Burn                           September 11, 2009

Dropped to half-mast. A carnival of flicking the remote control.
An old woman takes to the streets, demanding
The extermination of Israel. Return me to myself unborn.

Beneath the lowered flag the mind flutters
This morning dense with cloud, dusk seeded with electricity,
Day of remembering, fishing for words, eyes on programming,
Canned resentment comes half price.

Meanwhile a pick-up truck wholeheartedly
Hauls home an empty load. 

Raising Calm

Every day, white fences paint the earth
Into pens, grapes mound in purple disarray,
Defects decaying to a pile of sweetness.       

Every day, if it doesn’t rain water, arbitrarily it
Rains umbrellas, distant water never reaches the shore,
Sunlight replicates moonlight’s many wrinkles.

Every day, squirrels play at tranquility,
The tranquility nibbles acorns, acorns
Don’t need a mess of words and paper to convey environmental teachings.

Every day, bamboo plants can grow into bed mats,
The farmer’s wife craves an Alien adventure, and gets
The supermarket, where rare treasures pass as edible.

Every day, the world’s wanderers trawl online
Through the frenzy of things, as clouds and mud intersect
And reflect express deliveries, reading Genesis as chaos. 


Twin Cities

In an ethnic subdivision:
One skinny horse runs into another;
Hell is other horses, motherfuckers.

Absurdistan has contaminated
Correctistan, now betrothal
Is a conduit for new gods, resentment
Walks in human clothes, homes
Sleep with eyes open, neighborhood
Sports meets happen round the clock, a dice throw decides
Long and short, right and wrong, color.

The moon shines through a thousand windows: a thousand different moons;
Gentle breezes merge at the garbage dump.

One person digs a hole;
One person fills up the hollow;
One person digs the hole hollow;
One person fills up the hollow hole;
One person borrows the hollow hole to dig the hole hollow;
One person relies on the hole’s hollow to bury the hollow hole.  

To be a poet is to be dizzy with vertigo:
Two books of scripture, entirely new, entirely salty and sour.
One says a long whip won’t reach a horse’s belly,
The other says words can crush tanks.


The Eighteenth Day

Dignified shame. Beautiful dirt.
Translation: the world for no reason bestows tomatoes.


Wandering Immortal

The night speeds by as people relax, a young girl’s heart grows lonely.
Nude images reflect the nature of the self, lechers
Restless at their webcams, over fantasies
Distant and endless, nightclubs
Hard-boiled, seething like electrified
Chilli oil, electrified nerves, an endless parade of
Species, ages, nationalities, shapes, and sizes rolling on through.  

Electrified tales of the supernatural, this is how joy is diluted.
Electric speech. Electric light. Electric cohabitation. 
No fixed abode. No limits. No need for contraception.



An airbus stranded like a castle in the sky,
Reckless leviathan both delicate and soft,
Comrades flung far apart,
Gathering stars in passing.                                                      

Clocks, diluted stars,
Menopausal tides, improvised lines;
The one-eyed man walks unhindered,
Oblivious of falling or of the chasm’s depth.


The Twenty-Seventh Day

After a devastating fall of rain,
The primordial grass is saved, hearts are refreshed
The water-logged tourist
Heads for the equator where day and night are equalized,
Where day and night equalize the devastation            
Of a shoal of fish. In all the seven seas there is nowhere to call home.

Thoughts of home seasons?
A pretext for reasoning.
Thoughts of seasoning?
A pretext to read the Analects of Confucius
Or sing in unison the Internationale?

A devastating flock of field mice
Heads for the kitchen, and with ragged ears
Water-logged, dress up and eat a meal,
The primordial grass echoes, water vessels form an army,
Water vessels hone the devastation
Of a shoal of fish: a foreign country feels like a death sentence.


Turning Clouds

Heading to the mall, the vast sky draws up its mantle.
Village fields rip away each moment as it passes its sell by date.
Traffic surges, the wind rolls through
Blowing in waves. The highway
Replicates the Yangtze River, both shores shimmer with jumping pearls of rain,
Briefly suspended, crime gangs blot the land 
With chaos, darkening the mountains.  The mountains are an outlet store,
With vicious squabbling over bargains, the world
Is holding a flash sale, stripping the shelves, and won’t be keeping poetry in stock.


The tomcat lifts his queen in an embrace,
The dignified and proper proffer happiness. 
Find a pretext to cease the internal struggle —
Everything can be bad for you, and yet be
An indication of every stain scrubbed clean.


Destined Lovers

Recycling waste material, a man and woman sit down to eat and wait for death,
It’s the gold-banded cudgel of Sun Wukong writ large, a tool for indulging excess, 
The downside of preserving health is this: I’m alive, but running out of time.  


Greylag Goose

Warm winter, exhaust fumes rising, through the act of walking one becomes a pedestrian
And dissolves the word ‘person’, voice cut off from its roots, the body finds itself
In Chicago, a quagmire of strangers.

You emulate the goose, lifting my wings,
Emulating the ashen faced warrior
Cao Mengde.



On a Sunday afternoon, a small piece of the universe lies
Abandoned: cumulonimbus clouds stacked overhead, feeding
The non-beauty that no one pays heed to, a gravel road alongside,
Above the pylons, a bald eagle idles, peering
At the fields that no-one has clear harvested for the greater good.

A small piece of cultivated wasteland, farmland
Abandoned, on a Sunday afternoon, a meticulous
Chessboard of fields, on this nominally correct but going nowhere
American continent, before Columbus known anonymously thus:
“No prairie fire can destroy the wild grass, it shoots up again with the winds of spring.”

A handful of wildly ambitious families felled the young trees,
Set the emptiness upright, the even more wildly ambitious plants
Crackled as they burned but stayed green within, abandoning the fruits of autumn,
Ignoring passing travelers flaying, biting and wrangling, ignoring
The wood fungus with both ears listening, ignoring the minor nagging of mushrooms. 

Beneath the oak tree someone is searching for
Desire Under the Elms, retrieving the
small purple alfalfa flowers that you and I retrieve from each other,
We are scattered like stars, on a muddy Sunday
Afternoon, pleading with the pine needles and thorn bushes we cherish.

A small place, abandoned but eventful, intentional
And arbitrary, an iron fence delineating unintended
Limits, a small abandoned place imploring Columbus
To undo Sunday and all it implies, a farm that is a drowsing wasteland,
A dozing farm where village children run hand in hand to tip over a cow. 



Human, all too headstrong. 
Inflatable superheroes rely on the conflicts in human nature
An inflatable, headstrong peace, beneath the obelisk
The inflatable superhero’s intern gives him a blowjob,
Relying on that headstrong fountain of joy to shatter the boredom. 

The loneliness of the inflatable superhero is a prison drawn
By the state, the peace between lies and lies,
The willfulness of God and the devil, a bicycle pump
Lifts straight the cloudy sails, betting the unmanned aircraft
Can see its shadow below as it crosses the blue-green sea: a few suicide bombers,
He shuts his eyes and sees the secondhand entrance to eternity.   


The Thirty-Sixth Day

All of creation provides for the other.
I am without you, impersonating the abundance of non-being.
The western days rear up, jostling idioms together, and are silent, dissipating the East,
Superstitious about its limits: forming a line of improbable days.

Lacking rice to scatter as rain, or any trace of awkwardness,
Imagine yourself as God, energy wearing thin, burning through borrowed stability.
Imagine yourself as water, Judgement Day an illusion, learning society by probing its designs.

Your father retires, becomes enlightened, travels as far as the balcony where he shakes out his wings.
In a Confucian rite you hear as a cicada’s song, all is forgotten.

translated from the Chinese by Catherine Platt

For her excellent translation of Han Bo's work, Catherine Platt is one of two runners-up of the 2019 Close Approximations Translation Contest in the Poetry category. Read judge Eugene Ostashevsky's citation and discover the other contest winners here.