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More poems and contributor notes in Chinese feature

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Chen Li

Chen Li




Animal Lullaby


Let time be fixed like a leopard's spots.
A tired bird glides over the water, softly dripping its
tears like a shot arrow waiting to land.
This is the garden, the garden without music. The grayish
elephant passes by you with heavy steps and asks
you to guard the honeycomb, the honeycomb without bees.

I will put away dewdrops for the night, for the grass without clothes when the stars
rise in the sky, getting higher than the giraffe in the doorway.
Let nursing mothers leave their infants like
a cat finally loosens its arched back, no more
abstractly insisting on the color of love, the height of dreams,
for this is the garden, the garden without music.

When the awkward donkey parades, don't imitate his snoring.
Let time stop breathing like a bear playing dead lies down quietly,
some white flowers swatting his eyelashes, some butterflies.
I will wipe the doorplate for the cattle pen, for the swallows without eaves when
the grayish elephant passes by you with heavy steps and asks
you to mend the broken column, the broken column without sorrow.

This is the garden, the garden without music. Circling eagles, cease
hunting; hunting dogs, stop running—like an angel's forehead,
it's wide enough for fifty castles and seven hundred carriages.
Let the children far from their mothers return to their mothers,
like some long forgotten myth or religion is re-discovered and re-adhered to.
I'll praise and pray for the fruit trees, the fruit trees bare of their fruit.

Let time be fixed like a leopard's spots,
some white flowers swatting his eyelashes, some butterflies.
Don't disturb the wrath of the lion soundly asleep.
This is the garden, the garden without music. The grayish
elephant passes by you with heavy steps and asks you
and the mud to cover his footprints quickly.



Traveling in the Family


And of course it is a book,
a dictionary of absurd form and yet of absolute truth,
printed on four-color cards, on certificates of indebtedness,
on warrants for arrest, on marriage certificates.

On this page is my father, who has been wanted by time.
Because his mother is a crab swimming in the sea and crawling on the sand,
all his brothers' names are made of water.
Her husband came down from the mountain in a cable car, with
the vigor of mountains and the violence of fire: pressing her, beating her, cursing her
after drinking at midnight, leaving her washing the scars on her body with her baby in arms.
And he resented that he had a fire-like name like his father's, just as he resented
pneumonia and festering ulcers, which were responsible for
his twin brothers' early death and crippling.

This page reveals the family medical history too harsh to face —
my infertile grandaunt, my mother's missing father,
my mother's brother, who came to know that his own father was my father's father after
     living together for twenty years,
my father's sister-in-law and cousin, who married my fourth uncle and gave birth to three
     mentally retarded children,
my father's father, who knew how to beget children yet knew nothing about child—raising
     and education...

This page is an index of difficult and obsolete words —
my drowned uncle, my father's self-imprisoned cousin,
my father's sister who eloped when young but became a tonsured nun when old.

This page is an index of words in order of phonetic symbols —
schooling: with years' schooling, my father was corrupt and negligent of his duty;
screwing: gambling and screwing around half his lifetime, my father became a drug addict and seller.

They are traveling in my trunk,
overturning and rearranging the printing types again and again,
to become my brothers, to become me.
The margins are tears of mothers:
love, sorrow, silent embrace —
embracing anxious fire, embracing
the waves that turn back,
and on the beach of time, reading over and over
the pages of the ocean that become all the whiter with every leafing.



The Ropewalker


Now what I sustain is, floating in the air, your laughter,
your laughter, through the obscure quivering net.
What if a ball larger than a roof should be thrown over?
Would it drive you into sudden melancholy?
A ball like the earth, pouring onto your face the unfastened
islands and lakes ( just like a wheelbarrow with a loose screw).

Those black and blue bruises are the collisions with mountains,
the metaphysical mountain ranges harder than iron wheels,
the metaphysical burdens, anxiety, metaphysical aestheticism...
And the so-called aestheticism, to me, who tremble in the air,
is perhaps only a restraint from a sneeze, an itch, with
the head still up.

What runs over you at the same time is the joke system of
all continents and subcontinents, interwoven in your body like tributaries,
a joke not very funny: black humor, white terrorism,
red blood. Red, because you once blushed with your heart fluttering
for the beloved girl (of course you can't forget the hatred and bright red blood
aroused by jealousy and fury...) But you're simply a ropewalker
walking on the earth, yet discontented with only being a ropewalker
walking on the earth.

Now what I sustain are the subjects left behind by the
departed circus: time, love, death, loneliness, belief,
dreams. Will you thus unpack the parcel before a houseful of
silent audience? The moment of sudden solemnity after roaring laughter.
You simply pull out, wipe, rearrange the earth's internal organs,
those spare parts that make the world move, sunshine leap,
the male and the female animals reach their orgasms...
They don't even know why you stay there,
stay there (restrain from sneezing and itching),
a wingless butterfly turning a somersault where it is.

So you tremble in the air, cautiously constructing
a garden of jokes on the dangling rope,
cautiously walking across the earth, propping up
the floating life,
with a slanting bamboo cane,
with a fictitious pen.