Poems by Zhai Yongming

Zhai Yongming (1955-). Translated by Simon Patton.

The Lightly Injured  Thirst  The Death of Diana  The Black Room  Photograph  Mother  Monologue  Midnight’s Judgement  Life  Her Viewpoint 

The Lightly Injured

here come the lightly injured
gauze white as their white faces
their wounds sewn up more neatly than the war
here come they come
carrying the things they cherish
parts that have not died
they strip off their uniforms     they wash themselves
and use cheques and credit cards

the heavily wounded city seethes with energy
its pulse its temperature rises and falls
faster than war
slower than terror
the heavily wounded city
dispenses with artificial legs and bandages
now it bleeds a green secretion
it provides an all-powerful power of stone
one of the lightly injured     lifts up his head
to take a look at those aesthetical constructions

six thousand bombs come crashing down
they leave an arms depot in flames
six thousand bombs burn
like six thousand heavily wounded eyes
hastily lighting up the faces
of those thousands of women with husbands
of men with wives     of unmarried men and women
sulphur     asphalt cover their bodies
at their feet, tangled rigid frames

a heavily wounded map in hand
the lightly injured     from this moment on
go separately in search of those
new vessel buildings
thin forms, light forms and pointed
the neck of this city
now stretches out sharply:
a cinch to slice through
and scaring off a good many cuts


tonight all the light is shining for you
tonight you are a small colony
that remains for a long time, melancholy seeping
from your body, with exquisite drops of water

the moon is like a clean, fragrant body
sound asleep, it gives off a seductive smell
a night is pressed on either side by two days
between them all, the dark circles around your eyes
stay joyful

what kind of clamour is piled up into your body?
inconsolable, one feels some substance taking shape
the walls in dreams blacken
so that you see traces of triangular overflow
the pores of the whole body open
ungraspable meaning
stars in the night sky shine with inhuman shine
while your eyes are loaded with
the sadness and content of remote antiquity

and with them the agony of satisfaction
as you look on gracefully, the power of a demon
makes of this moment an indelible memory

The Death of Diana

I’ve written several lines     not quite to the point
on the princess
time is a second-rate     it is only in yesterdays
the princess can die     and be crushed
by matter     packed into one instant
her death     obliterates her obscure enemy
—youth, everything
begins from this moment, just as a butterfly
is more beautiful pinned and mounted

the princess is dead     a vulgar dream
tails the blood component of youth
with nowhere to go     vulgar lovers will
wonder at her     living morbid fear of dirt
and be scared witless by her dying

the princess’     death     calls to my mind
those close-set typefaces
the manufacturers and an innate quality of beauty
took direct aim at a life     they (the typefaces)
fell with a crash     and buried
an entire evening
should I mourn for her? of course
and at the same time I think that it could
get to the point where     I cannot make my own ends meet
so I smile     and say good-bye to
a case of cancer and
a car crash

The Black Room

all crows are black-hearted
I’m feeling timid: they have so many
relatives, the numbers are with them, irresistible

however, we four sisters are indispensable
we are the snare in the black room
slim and graceful, back and forth we pace
looking as if victory were within our grasp
yet I play dirty tricks, I am mean inside
while on the surface maintaining a girl’s good temper
walking the same old road to defeat each day

unmarried denizens of the boudoir, we are maidens of a reputable family
smiling resentfully, racking our brains
to give ourselves new airs and graces
young, beautiful, like raging fires
cooking up black and single-minded traps
(those who have crossed borders and schemed meticulously
those with sharpened teeth and bolt upright vision
does that face devoid of undulations belong to the husband of my elder sister?)

at night, I sense
danger lurking in our room
cats and mice wake
we go to sleep, searching in dreams for strange
house numbers, at night
we are ripe, ready to be settled
husbands confounded with wives, and so on and so forth
we four sisters change with each passing day
marriage is still centred on choosing a spouse
the light in the bedroom makes the newlyweds downcast
put it all on the line, I say to myself
home is the place to set out from


in it:
a man has just finished
his promiscuous game     today
he has thrown out half a dozen condoms
he relies on them     the way
he relies on his own toys
he relies on them    the way
women rely on their high-heeled boots

on the back:
a man     in the dark
fondles his old age appreciatively     he believes
the tabloid data     that ever increasing
sexual potency     makes his hair stand erect
and so for the sake of statistics
his only choice is to feel like a young man again

lighting a cigarette
I place the photograph in a drawer
now     I continue to manipulate
that naked blue body
his muscles (built recently)
grips tightly that hand which digs into it
his skin (again washed)
casts off the skins east and western within
my spleen and my stomach
sniff at his cheap eau de toilette
my shutter, however, is unwilling
this goes to show: your fade ins and fade outs
have nothing to do with me

at any time     he is prepared to pounce
penetrating that piece of glass
to become my thin pancake


there are too many places one is powerless to reach, the feet ache, mother, you never
taught me how to catch that ancient sadness in the greedy pink of dawn. my heart is like you only

you are my mother, I am even your blood bleeding out at daybreak
a pool of blood forces you, astonished, to see yourself, you wake me up

to hear the sound of this world, you allow me to be born, you let me form twins
with misfortune, terrible twins of this world. for many years, I have had no recollection of tonight’s weeping

the light that made you pregnant came from so far away, so suspicious, standing between life
and death, your eyes possess darkness and how heavy the shadows that penetrate our soles

in your arms, I once laughed as if revealing the answer to a riddle, who is it knows
that you allow me to realize everything virginally, but I remained unmoved

I regard this world as a virgin, but could it be true that my heart-felt laughing at you
did not ignite sufficient summers? didn’t it?

I was abandoned in this world, all alone, the rays of the sun enveloped me
did you lose something when, mournfully, you bent down over the world?

time puts me in its mill, and lets me watch myself being pulverized
ah, mother, will you be happy when I finally fall silent?

no one knows how I love you so wide of the mark, this secret
comes from part of you, my eyes gaze at you painfully like two wounds

living for the sake of living, I court destruction to oppose an immemorial love
a stone is forsaken, until it dries like marrow in the wind, this world

has its orphans, exposing all blessings mercilessly, but who understands best?
all those who have stood on their mother’s hands will finally die from birth


I, a rhapsodist, am full of the charm of the abyss
given fortuitous birth to by you. earth and sky
unite as one, you call me a woman
and strengthen my body

I am as soft as the white-feathered body of the water
carrying me in your hands, I hold this world
dressed in a corporeal mortal-embryo, in sunlight
I am bedazzled, although you find it hard to believe

the gentlest, most understanding of women
I have seen through everything yet wish to shoulder my share
yearning for a winter, an enormous night
heart taken as the world, I want to hold your hand
but before you my pose is one of crushing defeat

when you leave, my pain
vomits my heart from my breast
to murder you with love, whose taboo is this?
the sun rises for the whole of the world! for you alone
I concentrate the most vengeful tenderness on your whole body
from head to toe, I have means of my own

calls for help, can the soul reach out its hands?
as my blood, the ocean is able to lift me up
to the foot of the sunset, does anyone remember me?
but what I remember is much more than this lifetime

Midnight’s Judgement

we need our worries     to see ghosts
in order to see repeatedly the white human outlines
vanish like mirages at midnight
otherwise, such a commonplace sound
fills the room     blowing things repeatedly around
for one person alone to hear      vast without limit
in the brain     recollection crawls over the crown of the head
spinning its web over things eye-witnessed

each night I feel frightened
faint footsteps in dream
walk unheard of on the stairs
repeatedly in motion     for one person alone to suffer
medicine swallowed before sleep
will cut me off from daytime
the tender, considerate lover at my side goes off to sleep
happy, at ease     oblivious of the fact that my night spirit
lies outside his cuckoo cloud land

we need our worries     to be afraid
in order to discover our checkmates
on day’s headstone
otherwise, the letters of the dead
would not repeatedly score direct hits on my heart
and repeatedly give warning of     the vigorous arrival
of this fundamental invisible
what it excels in:     making its majesty
felt from inside the feelings

each night I wake     eyes shut tight
human forms with clouded faces appear repeatedly
the enclosing walls and that wall overhead
coming together in error
continually the head drops from the shoulders of my companion
crying and weeping in panic on my behalf
my next life becoming a burden in his dreams
strange spaces float in the dark
adding weight to my familiar taste

we need our worries     to die
in order not to recognize the face of the world even to this day
otherwise our ancestors would repeatedly question us
about that miserable     all-concentrating fate
the death of one encompasses the history of everyone
a dream encompasses every possible method of dying

each night I dream     at two in the morning
the winding moon wraps me tightly
in its huge tongue     so that I cannot get going
I have seen the snake’s face     human faces
the intact body of the goat
the trace of the crawling spider
no happiness in any of them!
and I know     all that from dream
to gentle, considerate hands
will cut me off from night


you must do all you can to stay calm
a plot detail like the act of vomiting
suspends its arc light in mid-air
while I ask for nothing

the body rises and falls wave-like
resisting, it seems, the invasion of the whole world
handing it over to you
a life this rich in danger, a life unwilling to let go
turns a blind eye to the daily slaughter
from which planet does it shift so dreadfully?
liquid does what it wants on dry land, refusing to vanish
what kind of air-current inhales the sky?
such swollen gifts, such a small cosmos
in which sombre forces are stationed
everything vanishing, everything transparent
but my most secret blood is made known to the public
who threatens me?
something everlasting hidden inside my body
more powerful than night in its summary of people?

tear-drops soar in a blistering hot night
vessels lacking any humanity chill the air
death covers me
death cannot withstand the pain that runs through everything
but that face devoid of vitality must not be disturbed
both terrified and spellbound, while the room is turning black
daytime was once a part of me, now it has been taken away
an orange-red light overhead fixes me with its stare
it stares at the most horrible aspect of this world

Her Viewpoint

her viewpoint shoots from one end of the bed
to the other     to look as your body
makes its way out of
clothes     mobile phone     shoes

and then there are your fingers
slender     outspoken
as if hearing once more
that clash of pelvis and daytime

everyone is neutered
everyone has lost their health
everyone is exposed outside their bodies

bound for a den of suffering
even dressed in armour     your acupuncture points
could not be wrapped up at this moment
every inch of your skin could at last
grow lazy     offered to the touch
and she will be happy for a time because of it

turn off the light     evolution’s orgasm says time and again:
what you are prepared to offer up tonight
is not that important     to her

(their children will witness
the whole process of birth:
amniotic fluid     blood     infant
charging out in uproar
no drop of sperm left for choice
no inch of room left for rest)

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