More poems and contributor notes in Chinese feature



Xue Di

Xue Di

from Flames


           The small path leading to lakeside emerges on water. On my way I want to collect time and smiles. Vision glides across sky's green gallery. Honeycomb, that distant setting sun — its buzzing wings spread across water, tickle me.

     Dusk unfolds gently before me. I leisurely finger its colors. Its shadow tries to whisper in my ear, breathy ripples across my chest. Grass deepens green. Crickets in my quiet waiting sing toward the night about my age.

     Meandering footpath on the water: absentmindedly I gather fruit bobbing among lotus leaves. Swaying shadows of lotus pods nuzzle my face. By water's edge I hover, vultures one after another circling in my skull release me, disperse toward the forest. A long bench, elegant, settled. In encircling moonlight about to toll, the bell of pure fragrant youth.

     Years soften. Into trees of fluttering lotus flowers, again and again I recite my loneliness. I tear verse from my fingertips and scatter them; light littering shade. Enraptured, I surrender: recline in a boat drifting across the green, searching in water for trails weaving between the stars . . .


     Let me turn these insanities into lines of poetry for you. When you first saw his dark shadow: your eyeballs unbridled, hoof-beats racketed in skull's canyon.
     Let me use words to ravage the wild beast lurking on the shores of my streaming blood, then throw the lines at your feet. Witness their primordial ferocity.
     Let me use my pen to impale onto paper primitive urges creeping behind your mountainous eyes. These papers spread toward you like a road. You leave behind an animal's scent when you run.
     Let me sink my incisors into your collarbone.

     Who can lift up this sticky sentence? These words throng. We all are scrawled by a river. Conviction shipwrecked and drifting;
stanzas sink, saturated with desperation. Madness motionless in shadows, winding around drowned legs, tangling any hope of the living. In voiceless combat, both sides suffer. Panting savagery through flaring nostrils, I provoke you.

     I use poetry to plaster the world's splintered limbs. I scourge your face with my affliction. That filthy yellow water may overflow in your life, breaking against dikes and dams of reason, nourishing soil, nurturing crops and humans. We are mud or awns of wheat or grotesque cries of birds hauling delicate shackles. We always must write poetry, singing praises to the sun or another unfamiliar constellation. Let me disgrace you with derangement gushing consumptively from my throat.

     Words order themselves before you. They surround my heart; blood coagulates under their constriction. At the center of that clot, in heat an animal roars. Do you see its radiance? Do you see those white birch trees, they lean on each other like my lines of verse, linked by grief, line by line. Like me, anxious, hearing butchered tree roots regenerating in my words; like that hand that signs my death sentence, scrawling on my hysteria's ashes: Love


     Why revere poetry? Because of what it reveals. Like life's flame at the center of the spirit, each word of a poem blazes, illuminating our darkness, illuminating an ancient consciousness, oppressed hope and instincts choked by reason.
     Pure works transfix us, deliver up real life. Behold! We are dumbfounded — !
     But the other kind — depictions of sound and fury, of shallow masochism, hypocritical history and false vision — all show me a swindler spouting clever rhetoric and charming words, or a craftsman tinkering with his tools, conniving with delight. It makes me see buzzing neon, and below, those who sniff out their dinners like feral cats.
     I know my silence threatens to submerge me in such putrid tidewater. But patience will again lift me out with the palm of its hand, strip away the sewage and decayed leaves smothering my body. Still, how many aeons has this submersion retarded a country's art? How long until it erupts, drowning us all, because we do not cry out? This is cowardice and profanity. This is complicity with deception. So I speak.
     Poets! Write the whispers of your soul. Write what Power prohibits. Write yourself: your filth, your transgressive desires, our hubris, dreams realized and dreams deferred. Poets, transcribe each breath that carried you here. Write yourself: your blood, your bones, your tattered flesh.
     These biting flames course through my sinews and cortex, in each word they burn. Let my poetry extract birth and death from my pulse, witness scarlet blood and dreams, see glorious ages of man —all to console my short, wandering role. This path, unburdening line by line, saves face before my father and mother — birth givers — and my ungiven son.
     Readers! As tides of material yearning surge, what stars wink out in our dark hearts?
     I weep. My poems grasp for others like me — if but to hold them.
     Can it be, only in memory we hear echoes of before? Can it be the only way to discover our dreams is to follow images sparkling in childhood eyes? According to vistas from our toddling days, we dream of moments not yet crossed? Can it be, all is irreversible? Only because we are growing old, all of us are growing old! Toxins saturate 'our' bodies. Legions of unknown diseases lie in wait, launch our spirits to war. This corporeal battle aborts poetry, distracts us from going beyond ourselves. Is it so? Animals and plants shame us, so we destroy them. And poets? They can only sing in dreams and letters, ferociously beating their chests: People! What trash!
     I fear somewhere my son's unborn eyes chastise me.
     Enough! All I can do is reach into my soul and write it exhaustively out. Day and night I listen to its voice piercing the center of the flame. It will torment me, kill me; in my quest, exposed! It robs me of a lover and progeny — that is choosing poetry for a wife; my flesh, proof of its own rotting. As for spirit, it suffers evil's retaliation. But with last breaths I will cry: My lines, my time, all were real, all were mine!

Translated by Alison Friedman