new zealand electronic poetry centre


Yang Lian

online works


Where the sea stands still



blue is always higher    just as your weariness has chosen
the sea    just as a manís gaze compels the sea
to be twice as desolate

going back as ever
to that carved stone ear where drumbeats are destroyed
where tiny coral corpses     fall in a snowstorm

gaudy speckles on dead fish
like the sky that holds all your lust

go back to the limit    like limitlessness
going back to the cliffs    stormheads all around
your pipes doomed to go on playing
after your death tunes    of corruption deep in the flesh

as blue is recognised at last    the wounded
sea    a million candles    stands dazzlingly still



reality    belittles the madness of poets again
a child has the right to reveal a brief death
flame brings crowds of bodies back down to zero
hate    has united the ashes of early spring
thick smoke spat from stamens    grows prouder still in tranquillity

the pure terror of your wish
this one day    has used up each dayís bitter grief
when fire    chokes the lungís lobes
seawater    watches motherís limbs swirl and evaporate
last yearís garden is squeezed out on the sea

rising to the zenith through the blank cries of seagulls
the non-licit deaths of young children
make death    understudy for spring
a chance enmity    the enmity of all your future in the darkness
because of a refusal to live in this moment



whatís drab and whatís drably copied    is criminal
someone living alone on a cliff is closer to the edge than the cliffs are
you    are battered by a thousand tons of blue rock
eyes    canít dodge the oceanís battering
what watches the day and whatís stripped bare by the day
time    the hardcore pornography of the dead

a fishbone polished still sharper can never be wrong
a drop of blood    has diluted waters that embrace sunken ships
ivory archaic and ruthless as a balcony
trees    net green shoals in their branches again

in this snow-white sickroom    that white is breeding
breasts bared on rooftops    gales
change each hand too gentle
the skyís legs pinned down by the bedrail

for the sea    the ocean slides more dumbly in dreams
a cockroach twitches terribly like a human

whatís past and whatís spat out by the past    is only flesh
in this reality    you called to memory    thereís only faraway flesh
rejecting blue cliffs
the sea that rejected wings is smashed to pieces
on your face    the lying biography each wave writes with light
and an eye staring at the edge is a fresh oyster
where the necrosis of last night goes endlessly back

Where the sea stands still



in the tarmac sea a ghost-white bird
smells its way to the shore    the lighthouse sticks
at the left    the place where we met our untimely end

on the tarmac sea an anchor is a broken plough

with the leaning of tombstones    a century
rewrites our names
seen beside the table of red rock as we dine
on seawater    the green bonfire of pine needles warming the skeleton
barring a rust-blackened mouthful of teeth    dancing

the little church steeple squeezes into this night each August
a storm    required reading in deathís lesson

light stops    where more dead congregate
the anchor chain has snapped    the anchor sunk deep where infants wail
lovers clasped tight beneath the tar

after a century we grasped the blackness of the clock



the flowerís defences have the ocean in their sights
a beerglass waits for sunset    to paint gold and yellow
like a steadily sinking disease on the lips
that talker    still talking through the glass

that singer    electrocuted into song
at ten-fold volume to seal up the deaf
smile    is recorded
food    breaks fingers off

drowned silhouette of a sailor    presses in
multiplies between chair and chair
between in-breath and out wind on wind is a rank salt beach of bloodstains
that one called a man    makes words split and crack

stoneís snow-white heels stamp on the primal earth
paralyse the stairway of heartbeats
the days    since they neither ascend nor descend    have reached
the final    drunken    cud-chewed    sea



paralysed years and years forced in by paralysis
years in sunken ships
this flesh which has forgotten how to banish pain opens wide its skin
insides finally touched by the ocean

liver washed clean, a single white jellyfish
face pickled    pinning down a thousand stars
bed captured by a turtle    still playing a shining instrument

as moonlight is clearly our phosphorescence
tides    endlessly scrape younger wombs clean
cries for help cease in    all the ears not there

in    a quietly suspended moment before the sharkís feeding frenzy
we donít shift    rust piles up over the sky
weíre shifted    the oceanís purple shadow tightly clasps
a century    a pair of hands spit ink
touch    powerless and powerlessly attained sleep
shame    riding on a lighthouse
touches    the masturbating flesh that the dead bequeath the beach
wheeling birds are tiny bows that shoot into five fingers
our coffins compelled to pursue this night

dig it out    that bottomless wounded seabed    stands still
where a storm can never stand


Where the sea stands still



who comes with you close to each of your deaths
who says    the one harvested stone
makes the sea sink to the level of your water
as you look    you can only hear birdsong as funeral music
you listen    but dream of the oceanís carmine dustjacket
placed on the windowsill
picky nightmares read you more closely still
corpses stuffed with recalled-again chalk
who shares this doleful distance with you

now is furthest away

your standstill is as full as the oceanís madness
the fullness of solitude    makes an ear think long
in every dry shell predators have been drained of fresh blood
snow-white poison milk    one drop enough
to suckle your sunlight

eyes open and fall into reality
shut tight    is kin to the dark



this death-like instant    this instant of passion
this instant simultaneously blank on the black bedsheet
and suspended on the sea    flesh
escapes itself through the mirror of flesh
the blazing organ is a corridor
paralysis    the bright blue goal that makes the ocean dazzle
girls urgently cry for rest    when being stands still
the tenderest windows are damp, pushed open by the sea

fling yourself in one direction    this direction that never was
far from the strumming fingers    the instrument itself is music
far from the wind    salt settles into the wound of all the past
only the now is like being forgotten
lustís blank water on noonís black bed sheet
the further from blood ties the brighter it is    this instant that lights up sin
in the now there is no time    no one slowly waking
to say    illusion apart, no sea can come alive



alive powerless with no way to go back

in the oceanís collective panting
names    vulnerable planed-down nuts
fingernails resist the seasons    the attempt at murder is utterly immortal
bird wings have chilled the images

you are    someoneís and what someone makes of a dream
what stands still and whatís painlessly changed by standstill
you are    always your mirrorís more vicious imagination

when more are missing    itís even more the world
each drop of water denying the blue that fills the vision
deathís compacted sands    spread on nightís city
the festering journalistic fish
a foul shade able again to find the woman in labour

only    when someone hears anotherís tinnitus
will reality open    like a syllabus of the darkest learning

this language which has no past    forces you to learn
whatís fearsome when you look back is your own
face    a ghostlike fake reflected by the grave
history    the silver white of tree trunks seen by autumn
its leaves identical to the worst news of all
neither is true    yet a thousand times dying in the sky
the sea    so sharp it snuffs you out    makes you the you of this instant

where the mirrorís fictive ending stretches endlessly away


Where the sea stands still



King Street    straight on
Enmore Road
    turn right
Cambridge Street
    No. 14
the seaís tongue licks into the grate
                                          the old house discloses
countless places to watch us in the dark

we are so worn down    looted and left still more dilapidated
that shadows will show themselves at this address

                                                unfamiliar words are only curses
inbred neighbours all jumbled together

dead pigeons spew out city scenes age on age
glass    inlaid in eyeballs
sky    beyond the railway proudly preserves colour blindness
a map elegantly printed with everyoneís ruins
                                        canít help owning the sea

everything not there    vanishes more
is a poem    leading us back down to the house of nowhere
and everywhere    an utterly demolished life



the thousand-part encyclopaedia of the waves hammers the sentences in
stones have deleted the choir
no poetry that isnít cruel

to finish its interview with the poet
cold    flows in clots from snow-white skin
briars    drag out winterís questioning

always picked clean by the very last line
the carcass    is always the nest where chicks cannot hatch
reflection of the sea on a morning wall

let word and word in full view bury a man below ground
nothingís left but the poemís black cloud
who    is eaten up piecemeal by his writing

like an invalid    leaks out in the brooding of his illness
the autobiography of death    embraces the dead in the sky
no beauty that isnít cruel

no poetís finger not sawn away
calmly burning    setting sun between white pages
speaking out    unspeakable fear



at some address    kids slice open a pomegranate
some address    imagines kids as
eyes    white nuts in flesh
blood    chirping bird congealed into glass
half a body twisting invisibly in the hands
and chewed-up pink jelly smeared on the teeth
death    kids have seen

what forgets us and what is pitilessly restored by forgetting
lamplight abstracted from a city at dusk
is again    but never for the last time

what strips us of direction and what is stripped by too many directions
blue    always unfurled in the heights of the head
                                 blackening in a stare
must always have somewhere for vain hope to sortie out
to let the words that make addresses    get used to the pustulence of the crowd

blank    in the eye-socket
                                       only in symmetry with
the sea    shapeless beneath blind menís hands
some address is assigned to plant silvery perfumed bones
to strip away our depths
kids    almonds roasted by the seasons
become every
                                imagination denied by being seen
                     inspired by destruction
the pomegranate    is wrapped in blue calcified pips
the sea never yet slapped beyond solitude
never yet had another    shatter below the cliff
we hear ourselves    fall elsewhere and shatter
no sea that doesnít slip into the void of the poem
kids sliced by long-dead light    stand still    this shore
is where we see ourselves set sail


© Yang Lian

Last updated 04 October, 2001