Poems by Han Dong (1961-)

Return  Rain  Round Jade  Scenario  Six Lines  Some People Don't Say Much  What I Said to Myself  Winter Solstice  You Have No Name  Neon Sign  Me and You  Life 


Translated by Tony Prince and Tao Naikan

I returned from Shenzhen to Nanjing
There was still some daylight left
It wasn't that I didn't understand time
You couldn't say anything so na?ve
Having taken a padded jacket with me
I put it on when I went back home
And yet, as the evening approached
My body retained the southern sunlight
Still unextinguished

I went knocking at my friends' doors
And called them out into the icy streets
I said stupidly: It's after midnight, in Shenzhen
Everything is just starting!
No one argued with me, being
Used to silence
They got on with their lives in double beds as husband and wife
Or back to back, drawing warmth from each other

(For a month afterwards
I was full of rebellious hopes and desires
And cried joyfully'I have changed!'
But it was only a disturbance of my biological clock
The difference in time zones, or the changes in my schedule
That a mysterious and unseen hand was slowly adjusting
In the darkness)

Now I am sinking deeper into the past
As though falling from the sky, continuing
My plunge into the earth. Winters is settling into its siege
Like a great army. Even metals contract in the cold
But in the south, the softest things open up in the finest way
Like flowers, and their sexual organs
Licentiousness depends on warm ocean breezes and the trad winds

Now I'm back in Nanjing
Living near ice, snow and frost
Like the saints of ancient times in the mountains of Central Asia
Close to snow-capped peaks and glaciers
The tropics can produce no saints. I know very well
That Jesus was not a black man

Now I'm back, back in Nanjing
Getting on with a middling kind of life
Between sun and ice, I inhabit
The cold shadows of my room
Occasionally visiting a nightclub
That warm cave
Where I am far from eternity or a moment of excitement
I'm like any commonplace and painful existence
That's all I am

5 January 1995


when nothing else is going on 
rain is a big event but when some event 
is happening 
rain becomes background 
some remember it, some don’t 
years later, when everything’s in the past 
the rain comes back to us once more 
pattering as it falls 
nothing happening

Round Jade

when the light goes out, darkness falls 
when things settle, I see a patch of light 
barely visible: what could it be?
this greenish glow, I’ve never noticed it before 
next thing, my hand comes into contact with 
a round piece of jade 
as I wind its cotton string around my fingers 
I can’t remember who gave it to me
(I did, later) 
but this subdued light remained a stranger 
it shed no light on the objects around it 
as if sightless 
sombre as the glint in a blind woman’s eyes


when I’ve finished this cigarette, I will make my way to the banquet 
travelling across the city in a taxi late in the afternoon 
then I’ll come to a brightly lit dining table 
one by one good friends will arrive, each one of them feeling just a little keyed up 
vivid lights will shine briefly in their faces 
and reflect in the spotlessly white tableware, thereafter 
increasingly dirtied as a day’s sunset sinks in lip-smeared wine glasses 

this scenario is something I read in the smokey haze of a cigarette

Six Lines

it’s raining, but this is not the mood of rain 
it’s autumn, but this is not the cold of autumn 
a piece of music when it is not being performed 
a thought in a head when the rest of the body has died 
the meaning of life beyond words, truth’s most secret 
secret when my eyes are matched by the eye-scars in that tree ...

Some People Don't Say Much

some people don’t say much 
they are neither mute nor introverted 
saying only what’s necessary 
speaking only when courtesy demands it 
floating on the surface of speech 
this is how they are all their lives 
summed up in a few phrases 
some people live like epitaphs 
long years reduced to a sentence or two 
soberly like headstones they stand there 
facing us

What I Said to Myself

1. at this moment 
at this moment, I am mostly writing down 
anything that comes into my mind 
nothing’s happening 
and so the twilight is an event 
and there’s me 
they swallow each other up 
until one bloats 
and the other shrinks to nearly nothing 

2. turn for the worse
“Imagine an empty interior world.” 
the outside of me is a void 
but the inside is jampacked, a compact mass 
one should take a turn for the worse 
and observe the real outside: rivers and mountains, 
a plant or a tree 
while on the inside: mind open as a valley 

3. in the future 
in the future, things will happen 
in a mood of expectation 
of anticipation 
when there is neither expectation nor anticipation 
things will happen just the same 
so that to feel an undaunted terror 
as you’re hit by a train at a crossing 
seems unnecessary

Winter Solstice

someone burns paper money in the street 
it’s the day of the winter solstice 
flames light up the trees that line the road 
we, the living, turn ourselves in shadows 
so as to get closer to the departed dead 
in streets, at the foot of walls, in the courtyard of houses where our 
dear ones once lived 
loss and remorse bring home to us the existence 
of another world 
as dark as the earth 
as agile and warm as flames

You Have No Name

you have no name, no form 
when satisfied, you’re like nothingness 
when unhappy, you’re perceived as pain
in a breeze, a landscape 
in memories snatches of melody, certain phrases 
brief flowering and fading 
blood and tears 
the simple ocean, useless stars 
and warm-bodied mammals 
you are the beloved 
you made and you shattered my soul 
caused me to be born by chance in this world 
to seek you out 
and to die at last a willing death

Neon Sign

unable to sleep, I open my eyes 
in the dark, the shape of a window 
so I sit up in bed. look (I tell myself) 
outside the sky is gloomy 
even blacker are the distant treetops 
in the air above them, there’s a neon sign 
flashing quietly in synch with the glow of my cigarette 
it’s a line of words. it says: 

Me and You

me and you: we met, fell in love, lived together 
me and you: we lived apart, for a certain stretch of time 
my pity and my pain, for you 
your attachment, your unhappiness, for me 
me and you: the soul’s intimacy, isolation 
all these things are random 

like you, I result from the random 
meeting, falling in love and living together of parents 
from the random foods they ate 
from a randomly acquired gender 
we grow up to be blown around by random winds 
the random world shakes us up like dice 
for the sake of an outcome 
those red dots: drops of blood 
six: two lines of tears 
only these two are necessary


life is a vacancy 
inhabited by people 
male and female 
as random as a meeting on a train 
as close to one another as these lives are 

life shakes us up 
so hold me a little more tightly 
at the station we get off, shed hot tears 
a butterfly flies in 
passing back and forth without let

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