new zealand electronic poetry centre


Zhang Yang

Fugacity 05
Online Poetry Anthology



First swim


I have seen them riding seaward on the waves  
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back  
When the wind blows the water white and black.


Part One


Hey, my dear Robert,
I heard the news in Time magazine.
A few lines covering
Your life time and achievement.

You deserve more
Thus “Attention must be paid.”

Felt Heart-breakingly sorry for you,
I went to the NY Times website
Here you are:
                            Robert Creeley, 78, Groundbreaking Poet
“ The cause was complications from lung disease,
Displaying only the first 50 words, out of a total of 842 words”
It says
I would have to pay 2.95 dollars to read more.

You deserve more
And this is a disgrace.

And guess what?
I did read our dear Allen’s reaction to the death of W. C. W.
So he only….

“Williams is dead?”
Bewildered he seems
And asked the question that no one dares to:
“What you wanted to be among the bastards out there.”

And what about the guy the insane old man was speaking of,
“Who’s left alive to understand my jokes?
My old brother in the arts…besides, he was a smash of a poet.”


The all-American poets
All seeing
All transcending
So that…

I went to the bookshop with a girl last night,
And I sat there reading your collection.
Going home after a movie,
              Inside my seedy and smelly bedroom,
We lied perfectly; quietly I mentioned your name to her.
Seemingly interested, she read some your poems from the book I bought, laughed at
the pissing lady of yours.
Me imaging some dirty moments
On an altogether different level.

So also died Saul Bellow,
He got a full page in Time, an appreciation.
Labelled the backbone of the American literature in the 20 th century by the guy who
wrote American Pastoral, a not-too-bad novel I would say.

I know nothing about him, only he is a Nobel laureate.

You died in the same month as him, intriguing.
Only difference, Bellow the Novelist, the Nobel laureate,
The quintessential American…..
                               forever lost is the Great American Dream

 You, never won a Nobel,
                      a smash of a poet though,
         Now a dead poet……
               Only a poet…………………………………………………

Now I try to write like you, forgetting about Eliot and his poisonous influence,
          -- Fuck whatever traditions and whatever individual talents.
Poets are poets,
          “Man for all men”,
                        “Poet is priest”

Here is a poem for you, dear Robert:

Summer surprised us by
Arriving late.
So autumn can wait patiently.
It was a bright January day.

The sun was glowing with
Covering people’s face with
Appreciating smile.

And we, staying indoor for too long,
Stretched our arms
Breathed the morning air and warmth,
Decided to go for a swim that for months we prolong.

So he said: “Brilliantly lighted air, and golden hair,
              --- I must pursue to its perfection.”



While speaking of her love of the sea,
Her golden hair lighted up the air like her words

Walking towards the beach,
Gradually the past is beyond our reach.

Cheerful were the children
Embraced by their loving mothers

They were frightened by the water and the ceaselessly crushing forward waves
Someone said: “Marie, Marie, hold on tight.

                                And down we went”


If you go first, wait for me there
Such promise was made then.
And she, “my much praised but-not-altogether-satisfactory lady”, dived into the current.

A little scared,
I too, following the receding tide,
For a moment there was no light.

The water was splashing around me, --- like the moon
Sand crushing my feet
I retreated into a still corner,
Searching ceaselessly, I found her.

She was surrounded by yellow and brown
My wavering mind felt ever young.
The sun, brooding upon our shadows,
Demonstrated her powerful wishes.

So the old man cried:
           “I have seen the golden disc,
            I have seen it melting above me.”

We swam continuously and vigorously towards the waves.
They crushed us back and forth.
She was not deterred by the shivering earth.
O, like some mysterious sea creatures, I believe in the ocean she thrives.

Smiling understandingly, like one of those rare smiles.
She uttered: “Hey, boy, I love to swim.”
I responded: “Oh, I am feeling the world is ours,
And this is my first swim.”


Part Two


When we were children
Together down by the fragrance-filled garden
The rose garden, the water lilies, oh millions of flowers in blossom.
Tightly mother held my hand, and said,
“Dear boy, my boy, don’t be afraid.”

I was half amazed and half
Frightened, like a bird in my mother’s arms.
My little cousin, Cathey, her pony-tail was
Straightened by the wind.
Father yelled, in the distance, : “Get into the water, hurry up”

Mother lets me free, me holding little Cathay’s right hand instead,
Her palm was warm and inside it I felt her sweat.  
We walked staggeringly and lurched towards the water.
So father, already impatient with anger, reached out his hands,

Uncles and aunts were swimming in the open lake, near
The river mouth where the sun was bright; dear
Grandma and grandpa, sat in the shade of the willow tree,
Watching us swimming free.

Therefore we went,
I said: “Cathay, Cathay, my dear cousin, don't be afraid.
The water is shallow in which you can learn
How to swim like a fish, for there is no snake.

Father yelled: “Come on, you two little chicks, the water is warm like
The water in your bath tub.”

We tiptoed towards the water’s edge,
Seeing uncles and aunts moving towards us,
Seeing grandma and grandpa grinning at us,
I had my first swim at a very young age



So since then we went to the lake once a week, day and night.
I often jumped from a tree branch
That was hanging over the water,
Or from a mud cliff near the bank.
I jumped towards my father, who was catching crabs in those mud-holes.
The water slashed all over him, his eyes blurred by the mud.
Laughing and trying to catch me, he dived into the water
Searching for me with no avail.
I disappeared, like an eel, lurking in the deep pool.
For a minute I reached another side of the bank,
Breathed the fresh air, waved to my mother, who
Was standing at the water’s edge,
Our shirts green and yellow.

It was such a splendid time,
Life passing before my eyes without me realising how fast it went,
We grew older
And grandpa died in a hot summer.
We never went swimming together again,
Little Cathay, became prettier everyday and soon got married.
Mother and father, for reasons I didn’t understand,
Started having argument and fights often.
Grandma stood in the middle, attempting to break the silence,
And watched on helplessly
As mother and father drift further apart.

They were silent when I left, weeping,
I yelled: “We never went swimming again, I hate you.”
Father replied emotionlessly,
“Now you are swimming further off-shore,
To a place beyond my reach and apprehension,
Towards a large ocean
And you
Are amongst the millions of swimmer, son,
You have to look after yourself.
And we
Could only teach you your first swim
And watch on for the rest of your life.”

They were still weeping silently
I yelled: “We never went swimming again, I hate you.”


I cried, I cried, and I cried like a child,
I saw waves crushing forward,
Endless waves,
The promised new life and new land never arrived, and
I only see endless waves
Coming towards me.

Wind and
Water and
We, standing up against the
Wind, and the
World becomes surreal.

So does the city behind us, the dark field,
The vast obscurity,
The massive shopping malls and supermarkets,
The movie theatres where you can get a cup of popcorn
That you can never finish.

You can get a cup of soft-drink as well,
Makes you feeling fulfilled as being human, with
All our knowledge and enlightened ideas,
We drank coke, talked for an hour,
And marched towards the envisaged eternity.

In the theatres where you can watch people killing each other in
Their unreal dreams
And people having sex to everyone they meet,
In reality, and in their imagination.

Part Three

So I swam pass everybody, leaving
The city behind me and you,
My ever-changing
Yet heart-breakingly saddened lady.

It was our first swim this summer,
It reminds me of the death of grandpa in that hot summer.

I reached far into the sea,
Where there wasn’t even a single wave in the water.
With little ripples,
Turning back,
I saw the beach, the mountains, the swimmers,
The green trees and their wavering leaves pushed by
The wind, and the imaginative city, and you,
                             “my much praised but-not-altogether-satisfactory lady”

I took a deep breath of the salty air,
And beat on.

“…he must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living
too long with a single dream. He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through
frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how
raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass. A new world, material without
being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about…”

So in summer –, we drown in our first swim
And I die for the millionth time in my fanatic dream.




Allen Ginsberg: Death News.

Robert Lowell: Ezra Pound.

Allen Ginsberg: Death to Van Gogh’s ear.

T. S. Eliot: The Waste Land.

Pound: The Bath Tub.

Ezra Pound: A song of the degrees.

F. S. Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby.




Last updated 25 April, 2005