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from the May 2004 issue

from Walled Dreams, and an Awakening


I wait forever
For the wall
To awake

Leaves have fallen to the ground
Leaving behind nothing but a bird and its nest
Quiet on my birthday

Withered grass on all sides
Parched but still alive

In the narrow lane crickets research their music
My birthday comes in the fall

I can only speak of
The many stones cast down
By the sun, a sign of the living


I began this wait
Many years ago

Snowflakes scattered across the concrete
Ice on the pond
Smooth and glittering in the dark night
And logs trapped in the water

The atmospheric blue will crush this room
I would like to turn and walk away

I stare out from this pristine life

Sparrows beat their wings against the barn door
The stone mill stands among the yams
The air dark, dank, and cool

I look out from this small window with its smooth eyelids
Sleepy panes of paper


Because of the stars
The rains continue to seep through

Gray tiles pressing down together
A dim-witted crow
There is no omen whatsoever

The books slide down
Slide down onto my shoulders, my hands a little numb
The bird of my voice
Has no companion

A fire burns on the dark water
Fire of beauty
A fragrant beauty
The water's sweet smile meets the wall

My breathing
Is a paper boat


Have you heard about the canyons?
The many canyons of the world
And in some there are temples and branches of trees

But the canyon of which I speak is even farther away
Even farther away water remains in the night

I have rubbed the stones, stones warm
Released by the sun
Stones not carried away by the water

Dusk in the canyon
Is a flame diluted by shades of green
I long for that dusk

The wall, the wall smiles within the stones

The small boat strikes against the wall
It rubs against it with a hand of lamplight
That lamp is my gift


Silently the wall tries on its clothes

Ashes on the shallow water
Welcoming something, or running away
I fear the dark night deep beneath the waves

Born unfit to be a fish
But I still have fish temptations

The boat still rubs along the surface of the water
On the water, a cavern drinking in the wind
You want to run away, but still the many criteria remain

The water offers its full lips
Pressing close to the bank, one kiss after another
In windows of a well-lit house on the bank
Hang burning tinder

A boat of steel draws near


I need to get up and move about
My hands want to see the spring
The springtime of cigarette wrappers

The wall of dawn follows me
Helmeted dawn

Over the high plateau hang clods of dirt
Clods hang from my shoulders
My heart is a clod

The giant floor of dawn comes twisting and turning
Forcing me to think of fish in the kitchen smoke
Fish have no branching tendrils
But birds seem to
Floating in the light

The little bellows forever sucking in the wind

Watching the sun
Largely watching the sun without mist
I live in the surface of shadows.


I have almost seen the spring
That my hands have seen, covered with pollen
She cannot deceive me now

Then have you gone off to the graveyard?

The wall is single-sided
Like a sheet of paper with writing on one side only

I am no bird
My voice has not gone there

A place without water
And without canyons either
Emulsion colored bubbles collapse
One place of hunger
One place of thirst
Half-moon bellies all in a row

Humanity perfectly packaged
I wish there were a wall


In the end the earth stands erect
Just as I walk atop the wall
This is now my only road

That is now my only road

Galaxies of light swim toward me
Threads of tiny algae-eating fish
Almost laughing
My hand opens wide like a net
Do I have no net?

The moon has a shell
And flames drip quickly down through its cracks
Honeyed drops of transparent flame
Blacken my ears with soot


Yesterday we lost our electricity
The moon was our only lamp

The armpit of the city piled with hot burning coal
Troops on the road
You slept in the bed
Your feet planted there on the wall

Your toes are growing into the wall

You went and closed the window tight
Calling the raindrops fish
Rain on the piles of copper
Small stagnant pools of water

I would like a wall that can walk about
A wall that can walk about
That can walk about

Over there, a Japanese shoji screen


Doors made of glass
Sparkling glass turning round and round

Broad leaves begin to glisten now
In this morning of sorts
Veins fill the leafy hearts
And the sun starts its invasion

When the conference opens
The earth rattles it spears
Putting up light resistance

This is a morning of "one"
The sugar cube city is everywhere

Iron railings stand meekly on four sides
Undulating shadows fill the center
Outside, grass that no longer breathes

Reach out with your hand, slowly, please

September 1983

From The Selected Works of Gu Cheng (New York: New Directions, 2005). By arrangement with the author and translator.

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