new zealand electronic poetry centre

Yang Lian


Internationally renowned Chinese exile poet Yang Lian has special links with Auckland. He was a prominent member of the group of ‘misty’ or experimental poets associated with the underground magazine Today. Misty (or obscure) was a derogatory label applied to them by the authorities in an unsuccessful attempt to dismiss their avant-garde challenge to socialist realist hegemony. Yang Lian left China on the eve of the Tian’anmen Incident in 1989 and became exiled in New Zealand. He became and remains a New Zealand citizen and has made London his home since 1993. 



then    we turn our backs to the symbols

sit into    another river
a dark blue corner of a dark blue room

when hearing is blacker    ten years the jetty has leaned whispering against water
in the little park    ten years the tender green accordion of trees has played 
children charging down the April to April steps

clouds charging down their reflection    water now bright now dark
and squirrel’s pulped organs open
a blood-red photo album    reality stings even through glass 
even a soaked hand couldn’t touch the lined-up days

river    a blank textbook hanging from the past window 
questionsing now only the single remaining page    no need to learn vagrancy
weariness    tethered to a water bird flying low
the spinning whirlpool    exit for all the world’s skyscrapers 
flee    flee to plastic flowers    no need to learn vanishing

Hudson just like a name formed by the sound of the wind
lamplight’s passing glance    just like ghost fire hidden in human bodies
switched on    just like a notch blown away at will
a rosy notch twilight recorded on the sky
whoever has understood it    will live into a poem
unending past events

room in a room    filled with water of a decade
corner in a corner    painting the dark blue of distance
the way we sit forever turning our backs on the ocean
listening to the waves shatter    rubble savagely smashing a decade
telephone lines broken    cries for help blindly float through a decade
river the colour of forgetting    can’t forget
each day    two hands full of crimson steel tumbling straight down

no need to learn burning    handful of ash fixed in
tight-shut eyes    moon like a scooped-out pip
singing contralto    requiem for every river valley
every place that flows away appears each time after dying
banks paved underfoot    have been thousands of times removed
a pale fishbone always has another end glowing with phosphorescent light
endurance    to slap a lifetime’s final
farewell    pushing out tonight again

with the look of a room thrust into the universe
survey how much this sunken ship could further sink
our backs turned to zero drawn as the horizon
how much farther it migrates    then crazy blue is blue enough to be black
in a lost accent    Hudson pressed against
a bluestone wellhead buried at the gate of an ancient Chinese village
destruction touches its own diameter of one day
one drop    gathers snow left for us
with the beauty of survivors and the cruelty of survivors



every street is a translation    as you walk by
the empty lot    the ghost of an old demolished building might manifest itself
the sound of the sea’s salty smell invite you

to drink a glass    sour beer brewed ten years in the kitchen
my lamp has burned ten years    my sea’s surface
the inexhaustible lemon tree reaching toward the window
dyeing the beach black    embedded in my draft poems
you mistranslated a word    so an old-fashioned mangle
turns    sunlight drawing out a length of white cotton
some have gone mad    some have died

Sunday    nails far and near banged into the wood
the valley’s green all prepared for the flute
beneath bird claws the rainy season about to start
sky turns dark    every cloud turns into a dead lamb
wild fennel scenting someone’s evening

my    wildcat eyes seeing you off like a welcome
or your   fifty years of age broken down into fifty streetlamps 
like a narrative ballad    building a bridge towards the old house
a hospital’s galaxy only a little deeper than memory
driving ghosts brush by    when they glimpse the graveyard
go on shifting the position of an island among waves
if you want to cross the bridge you must travel three times
in translation    in verse    and in the landscape

a threefold distance escorts you back
to the cold and black summoning blood ties of ocean’s kin

the real mother-tongue has no words    like mother
long ago knew you would be panting towards the white snow of the summits
or me    hidden in a body open to all
learning the seagull’s cry    crying to pitch-black night open before my eyes
true loneliness hung with the sound of whistling on rocky edges
the wind rises    soul of the dead rising with the sound

mother knew long ago you’d be wrong again too
kids pricked into coniferous woods    should rejoice they can still be wrong
old flying houses can’t be found on a tourist map
a dictionary of the past    you brought here yourself 
a volcanic crater waits at the top of the creaking wooden stairs
what’s never been written in words    leads you up
like this moment mother painted
you take off borrowed flesh and blood
go where no-one else is to get good and drunk

ten years later I’m in London    thinking of that glass of wine
poured into the hurried silhouette on a marble headstone


Both trans. Brian Holton
© Yang Lian 2003 




Last updated 30 July, 2003