More poems and contributor notes in Chinese feature



Chen Kehua Chen Kehua

The Pledge

The first time we met, he cut off a finger and gave it to me
because of the pledge we made.

He said: You'll get over it. Don't wait for me.
I have six fingers on my right hand.

The second time we met, he plucked out one pearl-grey eyeball
and presented it to me before riding off on his horse,
because from that time on I was no longer a virgin.

I asked: I suppose you've got a third eye somewhere, have you?
He laughed.

Every night I summon my dream demon and question it closely as to his whereabouts.
Through layers of cloud I watch
as he lies naked on moonlit cliff tops
accepting the caresses of the breeze and the dew, before
arching his body and coming at last
in the direction of the full moon.
Oh, what kind of man is he? (Does he write poetry?)

As I walked along the shore carrying my head in my hands,
my dream demon, leading the way, said:
Those skeletons at the bottom of the lake are waiting for you.
Go on, let yourself sink and the fish will pick your corpse clean.
But why fish? I asked that evening
as he lay on top of me, his fishtail thrashing constantly against my ankles.
Because . . . he said, bubbles spewing from his mouth: because of the pledge
we made.

Because only fish know what it means
to “smear one another with slime.”


Me and My Narcissus

Little by little,
my strength has been failing me of late. I've realized I can no longer
nourish myself solely with
these wizened, sagging

Should get my hair cut today? I ask —
this querying of Beauty
sprouts suddenly like a ferocious potted landscape.

I stand at length in front of the mirror,
sideburns nailed onto the wall, and occasionally
I glimpse the painted face of Destiny's clown
sizing me up on the sly.

You've been in love, too, then,
I ask? Of course. And wearied of it
long ago; what's more, I walk up
and plant violent kisses on myself,
leaving lip-prints and fingerprints,
my bizarre signature, on every mirror.

Yet how deeply in love I am (take a look for yourself).
In the intervening spaces there exists
the possibility of countless extensions and
ambiguities: but I chose only one of them
and that one was you.

And perhaps even this choice was an illusion, I think to myself,

because in actual fact
there was no choice at all.


Language Wounds

Whispers, fluid and graceful. Between the lips and ears of others
drift the nails and needles of fine, fragmented metals.

Bright, luminous laughter:
the chill glint of blades.

Only conclusions accompanied by scornful looks
make the swiftest daggers.

Implied meanings are mean, undeserved profits
like the braking of a car or polystyrene scraping on glass.

Greetings are like fog
drifting from the mouth of a winter's day towards nothingness.

“I love you”
is non-existent, ice in love with fire.

The circulation of rumors resembles treacherous flows of water:
a bobbling truth is sucked down into the whirlpool.

a black sword coated in poison.

I am prepared,
but am I prepared at any moment
to let myself be covered in language wounds . . . ?


Translated by Simon Patton