Translated by Natascha Bruce
There's no cloth hawker in the bazaar
willing to make dirty deals
with the health inspector
neither will they confess the link
between those bolts of flyaway fabric
and ancient birds
(lo a sage appeared
drilled fire from sticks
transformed the stinking food
and the people were happy)
after the ban on cooking smoke
glug glug swallow
the secret of seawater and its fish
tile cities built up and pulled down
at four in the afternoon
a routine inspection
into the cleanliness of laughter
a hand spread wide in the dark is
splattered with light
a carambola tree sprouts branches from stumps
its remaining fruits sour and shrivelled to stardust
swaying in the void
the sky so dull
and the city official
at the newly-sterilized entrance
a spy hole onto the blankness
（有聖人作 鑽燧取火 以化腥臊 而民悅之）
Copyright © 2019 by Dorothy Tse and Natascha Bruce. Published in Poem-a-Day in partnership with Words Without Borders on September 7, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
Yellow gold is meaningless Learning is better than pearls A woman without brilliance Leaves nothing but dim children You can hawk your gold if you’re hungry Sell your mule when you’re desperate What can you do with so many poems Sprouting dead hairs in an empty coffin * Lotus: pink dewlapped pretty Lotus: upturned palm of my dead mother Lotus: a foot a broken arch Lotus: plop and a silent ripple * I hum and stroll And contemplate a poem While young boys are dying In West Darfur I hum and stroll And contemplate a poem While young boys are dying In West Darfur
Dad thinks my forehead is too Godzilla, too Tarzan, too Wonder Woman,
tells me not to tie my hair back,
exposing it, like it’s the Frankenstein Monster
from beneath my childhood bed,
or the mollusk that challenged the world,
and Dad, I love you, but you should know
that I’m a nightmare as a woman
who can make the earth stand still,
calling all UFOs from planets beyond
to paint me on canvas just as I am:
a Chinese girl nicknamed Yellow Fever,
chowing down on all the pork buns
and chicken biscuits and shrimp bánh mì,
at the buffet, and of course, all the men
as I star in my own B-movie, give it an XXX,
every girl’s dream of playing opposite
King Kong, and you know I’m not some Fay Wray type
who screams at the sight of a hand,
and Dad, I think about all the ape toys
you bought me when I was a child,
because you never wanted me to be alone,
never wanted me to go a day without
laughing or plotting, and did I mention
that you were born on Halloween
which makes me half evil—I’m joking,
but Dad, you’ve got to let me keep my forehead,
despite your old school Chinese beliefs
of girls hiding their warrior brains,
and I know you’re just looking out for me,
but my forehead has its own life,
like an invisible screen—one-way glass
where the ad men are watching the women
try on lipstick, but in my forehead
it’s the other way around, because let’s let
the boys play, and the girls watch for once,
because every lip could use a bit more
rouge, purple, crimson, burnt orange, hot pink,
how at once, I want to dress up
as a flight attendant, an accountant,
someone at the front of the class holding a ruler
and yes, if I fill out a survey
from a sex magazine, I’m checking off
forehead as my favorite body part.
© Copyright 2018 by Dorothy Chan. Used with the permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Quarterly West Issue 93.
Lovers in cartoons get into swan boats
before declaring their undying love,
but I’m terrified because have you seen
the wedding footage of the swan eating
the bride’s white dress, chasing her down the pond,
and we live in such a scary world
that the bird poems really aren’t helping,
because what good do they really do?
But what about my father growing up
in Macau, in Hong Kong, across too many
boarding schools in Asia to count,
one day going home to his mother,
a goose arrives at his bedroom window,
like a sign from a higher being.
And when I’m twenty-three, in Singapore,
I’m telling this story to a man
double my age—we’re greeted by pigeons—
and no, I don’t have daddy issues,
I’m just pouring my heart out
because that goose was my dad’s best friend,
because my grandma ended up
cooking that goose, because the man I’m dating
understands these old-school-Chinese-stiff-
situations of survival,
because this same man wants me to write
about his father, but I don’t have time
to be someone else’s biographer
when I’m thinking of how my father
made sure we always had a family dog,
a Buzzie to keep us warm, take out
for Italian ice and custard trips,
how during the Pennsylvania winters,
my father would bring lost birds inside
the house and feed them milk to keep warm,
how growing up, we’d go to the park
every weekend to feed the ducks,
and back to Singapore, when I look down
at the pigeons interrupting my date,
starting a brawl over scone crumbs
in the middle of the coffee shop,
I can’t help but just look down, laugh at them.
Copyright © 2018 by Dorothy Chan. This poem originally appeared in Split Lip Magazine. Used with permission of the author.
From The Undressing: Poems by Li-Young Lee. Copyright © 2018 by Li-Young Lee. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
I like to say we left at first light
with Chairman Mao himself chasing us in a police car,
my father fighting him off with firecrackers,
even though Mao was already over a decade
dead, & my mother says all my father did
during the Cultural Revolution was teach math,
which he was not qualified to teach, & swim & sunbathe
around Piano Island, a place I never read about
in my American textbooks, a place everybody in the family
says they took me to, & that I loved.
What is it, to remember nothing, of what one loved?
To have forgotten the faces one first kissed?
They ask if I remember them, the aunts, the uncles,
& I say Yes it’s coming back, I say Of course,
when it’s No not at all, because when I last saw them
I was three, & the China of my first three years
is largely make-believe, my vast invented country,
my dream before I knew the word “dream,”
my father’s martial arts films plus a teaspoon-taste
of history. I like to say we left at first light,
we had to, my parents had been unmasked as the famous
kung fu crime-fighting couple of the Southern provinces,
& the Hong Kong mafia was after us. I like to say
we were helped by a handsome mysterious Northerner,
who turned out himself to be a kung fu master.
I don’t like to say, I don’t remember crying.
No embracing in the airport, sobbing. I don’t remember
feeling bad, leaving China.
I like to say we left at first light, we snuck off
on some secret adventure, while the others were
still sleeping, still blanketed, warm
in their memories of us.
What do I remember of crying? When my mother slapped me
for being dirty, diseased, led astray by Western devils,
a dirty, bad son, I cried, thirteen, already too old,
too male for crying. When my father said Get out,
never come back, I cried & ran, threw myself into night.
Then returned, at first light, I don’t remember exactly
why, or what exactly came next. One memory claims
my mother rushed into the pink dawn bright
to see what had happened, reaching toward me with her hands,
& I wanted to say No. Don’t touch me.
Another memory insists the front door had simply been left
unlocked, & I slipped right through, found my room,
my bed, which felt somehow smaller, & fell asleep, for hours,
before my mother (anybody) seemed to notice.
I’m not certain which is the correct version, but what stays with me
is the leaving, the cry, the country splintering.
It’s been another five years since my mother has seen her sisters,
her own mother, who recently had a stroke, who has trouble
recalling who, why. I feel awful, my mother says,
not going back at once to see her. But too much is happening here.
Here, she says, as though it’s the most difficult,
least forgivable English word.
What would my mother say, if she were the one writing?
How would her voice sound? Which is really to ask, what is
my best guess, my invented, translated (Chinese-to-English,
English-to-English) mother’s voice? She might say:
We left at first light, we had to, the flight was early,
in early spring. Go, my mother urged, what are you doing,
waving at me, crying? Get on that plane before it leaves without you.
It was spring & I could smell it, despite the sterile glass
& metal of the airport—scent of my mother’s just-washed hair,
of the just-born flowers of fields we passed on the car ride over,
how I did not know those flowers were already
memory, how I thought I could smell them, boarding the plane,
the strange tunnel full of their aroma, their names
I once knew, & my mother’s long black hair—so impossible now.
Why did I never consider how different spring could smell, feel,
elsewhere? First light, last scent, lost
country. First & deepest severance that should have
prepared me for all others.
From When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities by Chen Chen, published by BOA Editions. Copyright © 2017 by Chen Chen. Used with permission of BOA Editions.
What more can you say
Nomad daughter of glaciers?
City has bleached the sun from your face
18 years old with a freckled nose
Hides of yak, barley, sandy wind
Knees stiff from scrubbing toilets
What dreams keep you alive
On the marble floor of Gangkar Hotel?
Drunken tourists and their nightingales
Money is the moon on Lhasa’s holy streets
In Beijing a storm drops 36 tons
Of dust upon the city of concrete
Nomad daughter from the Black River
What more can you say?
The wetland is becoming a desert
Home for rats, carcass of yaks
The salted tea you brought to my room
Yellow butter afloat from a distant factory
“It’s fake but tastes okay.
The real is gone, like snowcaps.”
Wind, breath, naked river beds
At dusk, a boy on motorcycle
Comes home with his last herd
Nomad daughter from the Sacred Lake
What dreams keep you going
In the glass cage of illusion?
Before the clouds
Cabs, trucks, mobs of fortune seekers
Behind the clouds
Patola Palace absent of its Buddha
Your ancestors are on the road
Nomad daughter from the Blue Treasure Plateau
Wooden gloves and padded knees
Long prostrations into the thin air
Their cry of never-perish ghosts
Calling you to keep the lamp burning, burning
And you shout to me across the street
“Sister, please find me a rich husband in America.”
Copyright © 2014 by Wang Ping. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.