Venice Elegy 2 Rot Poem

Yang Lian

Translated by Brian Holton

rot    holds the long rows of this great ship of stone
rot    holds your footstep    my footstep

walking the toppled waste where the Admiral gazes down upon the water
marble window frames    door lintels elaborately carved
the oil paint of the sky    soaks the ebb and flow of tides under the bridge’s parapet
young girls’ eyes sparkle on the decks
never afraid to wave good-bye    poems of setting sail    poems of dreaming

we pass through time    like swallows startled by the bells

walk the inverted rotted underwater forest
a thousand years of tamping
a stinking deep black growth ring holds the palette of the waves
smearing your portrait    my portrait
a rotted portrait is invisible    yet like roots
it grows day after day    poking at the sea’s black-and-blue wound
from deposits of sludge rise pearls and dead bones
in the sound of colored glass violins
a row of dead sailors locked into the struggle to keep paddling

in ship’s holds flooded with brilliant sunshine
                 gold    always pornographic enough
                            to make humans dizzier than yesterday

walk narrow alleys where water can’t turn back
hear seabirds cackle like ghosts
                            howl like infants

rotting branches gently sway in the green waves
rotting fish embedded in the silver-bright seashells under walls
the water level    climbs timber stakes    climbs stone steps
like a curse locks a rusty wooden door
like a collapse    another balcony dragged into black moonlight
bleached skeletons    pull another balcony’s snow-white bones closer
in the pitch black moonlight sway shadows of people   sway reflections in water
illusion is no metaphor
periscoping centuries pursue their own termination

you this instant    I this instant
the little backyard jetty moored where flows a filthy river
tastes unloaded from our flesh    spread out on the breeze
winged lions vacantly stare at the future