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from the November 2007 issue

At 30

The first ten years of my life,
as the moon exposed its silent craters
to my small city far below,
the streets filled with shouts,
gongs and drums drove out devils,
my lame uncle cursed in the yard,
and careless, I got kissed by the white rooster's beak.
A little girl pulled her pants down before me,
and once I ran into the ghost of a suicide on the stairs,
but my father raised me high overhead
and told me not to fear.
Hailstones bounced their lives out on the walk to the commune,
where I entered the immaculate school
to learn revolution.

In my twenties,
every cricket in the world grew with me—
together we laughed off trouble,
falling in love with violence and moonlight.
When a tiger loomed in my doorway,
I smelled meat
and leaped like a rabbit at others' doors.
I saw men and women dress for festivals,
I stole, others stole,
I burned sparrows, others burned sparrows.
Such was life, but my talent
painted perfect landscapes,
and sought no forgiveness.

Some doors closed, some were yet unopened;
my thirties a time to travel, time to read.
Of course I tortured myself
singing for love's eyebrows and knees,
but no goddess wafted to my street.
Friends showed up, vital and alive,
then vanished with their shadows,
leaving eyeglasses, shirts I couldn't wear.
The sword of criticism draws disaster
like pangs in the body bring on heavy rain.
I shouldered an umbrella and climbed a hill
where a small bird circled in the rain,
welcoming thunder and lightning.

How to suspect oneself as well as the world?
Ask the rain to stop pouring,
the bird to flutter to your hand.
Thought is a knife—one glint
and my soul broke into a sweat.
I drove back thirty spouting philosophers,
begged pardon of my guardian shadow.

Salt sweat, salt tears, how else would a body taste?
Night was a string of the same furnished rooms
I paced all day till dawn.

Giving a damn for the future meant I was unhappy—
the great earth turned but who felt it?

Translation of "Xie Zai San Shi Sui." First published in Poems of Xi Chuan (Beijing: Renmin Wen Xue Chubanshe, rpt. 2002). Copyright Xi Chuan. By arrangement with the author. Translation copyright 2007 by Diana Shi and George O'Connell. By arrangement with the translators. All rights reserved.

Read the author's "Discovery."

Read more from the November 2007 issue
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