Skip to content
Join us for World in Verse: A Multilingual Poetry Reading and Celebration of the Winners of the Poems in Translation Contest. Tuesday, September 17 at 7:00 PM | Word Up Community Bookshop, 2113 Amsterdam Avenue, New York
from the May 2004 issue

On the Train: Two Poems

Fourth Brother

The cap's beak must have exerted a quiet pressure—Fourth Brother confidently approaches:
"You on your way home too? You're Li family, NanPo, south slope, yes?"
Of course he can tell, family even smile the same way.
Under smile, other expressions of molecular genetics syncopate shrugs
to the slow train's swaying rhythm. Sound blurs visuals, the background of the soft sleeper softens. Sun. Morning till noon, chatter gossip—yellow soil, caves, people build houses into hills, a geologic fact,
trees track along the flicker . . .
Local folk medicine advertised all over town, dazzling.
The real cure is in your hands, did the research yourself!
Or--legend has it that your ancestors passed the secret down to you.
Folks, the prowess of this remedy is so strong, these here leaves so fecund
that one punctuation of acupuncture and your STD's will be banished forever!
Take a deep breath of the profoundly ambiguous logic we believe in.Like flipping a wheat cake, the doctor's assistant and the funeral coexist in present tense—
believe it! or don't, life g-g-g-going on, eminently stable.
There's only one surface and that's Fourth Brother's silhouette.
I was the one who took the picture, on the other side of the passageway.
The same sunny expression in my face, in my eyes?


In the Soft Sleeper Waiting Lounge

Second Uncle Second Aunt sink
into leather sofa which generously sighs.
First Class Waiting Lounge. Hooray! Working
on the railroad, all the live long day long. Easy
enough to puncture hauptbanhof. Thick dermis.
Comfortably arrayed around this secret
the chaos of outside tides in tides out.
—pause—waits for us to calm all the way down. Now
continue conversation
started two years ago: "There is no grassland any more,
desertification they say."
Wrote a few poems,
had a child,
now there's no grass left?
Rain beats down on yurt, a sheep of rain—
where's ruby-faced girl in long apple-
green skirt, gold-trimmed vest?
Second Uncle hasn't changed, only fatter, "Eat only vegetable dishes,
no more rice, still get fat!" The easier said than done problem of global diet,
solved: "Eat everything, overeat nothing," I hear myself saying—
wish a simple truth—now time for forbidden maple ice cream!
Hand inseparable from butt grows into a burden,
a part of my body shameful, ambivalent.
What to do? Terrorists, emotional trap, recession,
late born child, depression, insomnia, insomnia . . .
When Second Uncle was thin, anti-rightist movement, committed mistakes, divorced,
transported to border region to herd sheep, the iron-
clad conclusion—ah! it's the fable's ever-full treasure chest!
She pushes her annoying old man in, accidentally
during their fight over what is the worthiest thing to put in
and what does she pull out? Why, the old man after the old man!
Catch the tail of greed, the whip of ethics.
Second Uncle always laughs
when he tells the Husband Parade story,
laughs over and over when he tells—
Every day he shoulders the heavy heavy,
so when he travels he
carries less and less, Second Uncle;
I myself have the same tendency now.
Read more from the May 2004 issue
Like what you read? Help WWB bring you the best new writing from around the world.