Photo by Martin de Haan


More poems and contributor notes in Chinese feature



Yin Lichuan

Yin Lichuan

Old Man Zhang, Retired Worker

when he opens his eyes, in the ceiling
there's a nail. he looks at it for ten minutes straight.
as soon as he opens his eyes, he sees this nail, in the ceiling
it's been like that for ten years straight.
so ten years ago, the nail was in the ceiling
not in his eye.
back then, as soon as he'd opened his eyes, he'd go to work — no, to the loo.

now he doesn't go to work, and he doesn't need the loo, so once he's awake
all he does is stare at the nail. the nail drops down, into his left eye.
his left eye is kaput, and can't see the nail. his right eye ain't kaput
and can't see the nail either, because the nail is now gone from the ceiling.

there's a hole in the ceiling, just like in his left eye
there's a hole. so at that hole in the ceiling
he looks with his right eye. he'll be a long time looking
before the alarm goes off, at the first glimmer of dawn

Man Throwing Up

the suit is black, with filth like cream
at night a man squats in our midst and throws up
quiet and coy, everyone's most pleased.
neon dancing, women dancing
drinks dancing, music stumbling
one must be serious, thorough and fully committed.
throw up some bones
throw up some skin
throw up some fluids
throw up your last bit of vigor
and do continue. the crowd is awfully pleased.
and for the climax, pray throw in your heart and soul, my dear.

Wet with Paint

—dedicated to so-and-so, so-and-so and so-and-so

reach out your hands
tear off your face
measure its depth
increase its strength
rule out its filth
master its truth
shorten its length
adjust its width
reject its worth
then put it back on
(handle with care)
fix its expression
aim it at nothingness (that is, all mortal beings)
and be so kind as to stick out your tongue
to feel if your face is still there
and whether or not it is there
right where it is right then
please place your palms together
and you will certainly feel
your own devout and valiant expression
like a signboard wet with paint
on which everyone wants
to leave a pawprint

Translated by Maghiel van Crevel