Poems by Wang Xiaoni (1955-)

At the Edge of a Field, a Pair of Shoes  The Millstone  The whistling wind  My Retreat  Your Heaven  Your Softness Saved You  What Voice Is That?  There’s No Light in This World  Poet  I Met with Deception  I Felt the Sunlight 

At the Edge of a Field, a Pair of Shoes

At the edge of a field,
a pair of shoes is neatly set,
and which old man led the frugal life of these?
Perhaps he only wanted to remain close to the earth.
--Sha, sha, sha, sha: you can hear hoeing in the field.
The eye fills with green, lush corn leaves.

The stalks are all so sturdy;
they must grow seeds of gold.
The pair of shoes is still new,
with fine close stitching.
--At the distance, somebody
is singing opera, a rough voice.

The whistle for rest peels.
A young man stands up from the field;
his countenance is set. Sturdy. No, downright handsome.
The sun is his huge earring.
--He is laughing, shouting and almost dancing.
"My precious shoes are still there."

He knocks the dust from his shoes,
looks at his muddy feet,
and puts his shoes under his arm.
The sun burns the road to glistening hot.
Pat, patta-pat, patta-pat, listen:
his bare feet shape the bronze earth!

translated by Gordon T. Osing and De-An Wu Swihart

The Millstone

The draught donkey is long since unhitched.
In the millway
is still the old millstone--

Ten or so children
are running and shouting around it
and cracking ten or so wicker whips.
It is as if they circle
a big green tree,
frolicking and chasing.

An old man,
half-squatting down,
looks at this round millstone carefully.
It is as if he is looking at 
the detail in his dark-red cabinet at home,
while he smokes the heavy "toad-tobacco."

I come to the millstone
and rub it.
Oh, it is hard and cold,
some yellow corn meal still stuck in its cracks.
--Ah, I have heard
the nearby mountains are full of such stones.
"Full of . . ."
--how much is "full of"?
I am looking at no end of mountains.

Endless mountains
stare back at me;
they seem to be thinking,
"Who cares about this little bit of a millstone!"

translated by Gordon T. Osing and De-An Wu Swihart

The whistling wind

The wind whistles overhead,
now loud, now low,
sounding rather melancholy,
rather foreboding.

		An old man
totters past me,
his hand holding on tightly
to his thick, cotton-padded cap
while the wind goes on whistling . . .

The wind whistles inside my ears,
now strong, now weak,
sounding rather solemn,
rather wild.

	A child coming home from school
runs past me, laughing with delight;
a handful of coloured paper scraps
at once dances through the air
while the wind goes on whistling . . .

Suddenly, I feel an inexpressible joy:
	    my black hair
is ruffled in the wind,
is singing in the wind.


My Retreat

On this the coldest day of Beijing.
I very nearly came to you
in retreat.

Your hands
hang down like red-crowned cranes.
Cold butts its head hard up against the door.
It’s as if I’ve come to visit
something that could float off at any moment.
They say
you musn’t drive away the fragrant smell of herbal medicines.

I see no temperatures.
Nor the illness inside you.
I cross
the compound of houses that contains you deep within.
Before your barely conscious bed
I am a dense fog that will not go away.

The backs of hands still living
give off a smooth, soft light like the surface of the moon.
I cannot bring myself to say
this name that has hurt for all these years.

The things of this world
turn topsy-turvy.
Of all the down in the whole city
not a single feather still has the strength to soar.
I alone
balloon flimsily in the chill wind.

Like a plume of distant, fugitive smoke
you refuse to go away,
my friend.

Your Heaven

The cigarette your mother holds
It’s a cigarette incessantly afraid.
Your father
like a church packed with true believers
stands silently by aged stairs.

You are their mural
you are already sliding from their wall.
For you sake
all their lustre is peeled away.
The dark clouds in your body
are right now pouring
on their sleeves.

You are motionless
I know
unconsciousness has called you back again.
In your heaven
with the weight of heavy oak gates
the angels too have folded up their wings.

Obscure fragrance woven by Chinese herbal medicines.
In invisibility
I sound flights of wooden stairs
hearing emptiness.

When one bell is tolled
a million others
incline heart-rates accordingly.
But on the confused, snowed-banked road
the only one thinking to shed tears is me.

You know that
the world, the world is elliptical
and will never, ever be just.

Your Softness Saved You

I come directly from that summer.
That summer I wasn’t there
you threw yourself onto the road
crawling on sharp gravel.
Asphalt and blood
at once became slippery-soft and warm.
With everything so adapted to the hands
what did you take as the door to your home?

Had you been a jade pendant
you would have smashed to pieces.

In a ward where the wind knows no tact
your eyesight
came close to absence
thanks to a momentary darkness.
You want nothing more than deep sleep.
protects you with illness.
A permanent sleeping
covers the summer’s sacred, pure white tender-leaves.

From a summer 20 degrees below zero
I step inside.
My hands clutch
the sweat of many long years.
In the back of my mind I know
that it is more difficult
to snuff out a woman
than it is to destroy the barnyard grass.

What Voice Is That?

we hear a voice.
Far away, up above.

It is a space stiff, arrogant hands
will never be able to touch.
A radiance
snow and white nights can never get near to.

In the gloomy soul
it has been planted, dazzling.
It is a shining metal thread
someone plucks from the heart.

Only a god
could open its lips on this
dismal night.
Only a god
could make people stuck fast in sickness
feel moved.

those who have lost their legs
will all pursue it, gliding away
while those who cannot see the lamplight
reach out their hands
joining with it to become a sparkling ray.

What voice is it
what is the name of this god of song
who gently stirs the pain.

There’s No Light in This World

What did you make use of
to sense me beneath the lamp.
Were you wanting to stroke this ball of light.
One hand
could set the scholar trees of the whole city ringing.
all fingers are drooping.
Your hands flutter, unpredictable.
It is transparent.
Does the red in the wick
also look forward to light.

What season is this
all lamps
are dimmed.
How could I be a ball of light.

Your gaze darkens, goes out
we stand in the same shadow.
In these years of your unconsciousness
I have always
our common difficulties with caution.

Those difficulties
enabled you to recognize me straight off.
From the mountain top dense with miseries
your meagre waterfall spreads, sparkling.
In a world quite unworthy of laughter
I finally saw you smile.


This morning, together with many others,
I sneered at poetry
for being rubbish.

But only my sneering was genuine
because I am a poet.

I'm in the habit of collecting
any blank paper I find.
Someone said I had to be
up to something.
No, no way.
Compared to the poets in the street
I'm already indistinguishable from any passer-by.

Late at night,
I feel suddenly sleepless.
I get myself pen and paper
but cannot write a single word.

I cannot write a single word,
and feel discouraged, like a rat in defeat.
Finally, I understand perfectly:
it is my fate
to be a poet.


I Met with Deception

The last the narrowest corner
in the whole wide world.
There I met with deception.

Lying face down on the bed
Someone said to me
You’re more beautiful than ever
The people outside all love you even more than they did.

Only one step away from a deception
I could not lay bare.
Your waking might have only lasted minutes.
I wanted to say
the red tablets are like seeds if one looks at them long enough.
What I really wanted to say was
what human beings enjoy most
is, at close distance,
to gather round bleeding wounds.

As for all those things on the outside
I wanted to hide them, I could not help myself.
I wanted to grow in a flurry a thousand hands.
I thought to pray to God
to protect you with unconsciousness
I was forced to stand on the side of lies.

I’ve come from the outside.
Day after day
my high-strung heart
stores up an intricate thread-like terror.

You have made
the bedspread crumpled all over.
Again and again
I have failed to smooth that cotton.

I’ve done all I can
to take up your line of sight.
Apart from my hands
I don’t know what else
I can use to shelter you with.

I Felt the Sunlight

Along the long, long corridor
I     go on walking . . .

—Before me there are dazzling windows,
on either side, walls reflecting the light.
The sunlight    and I,
I'm standing with the sunlight.

—Now I remember how intense that sunlight is!
So warm it stops me from taking another step,
so bright I hold my breath.
The light of the whole universe converges here.

—I'm unaware of the existence of anything else.
There is only me, leaning on sunlight,
still for a full ten seconds.
Sometimes, ten seconds
is longer than a quarter of a century.

Finally, I dash down the stairs,
push open the door,
and run in the spring sunlight . . .

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