Josh Stenberg


josh stenberg






prophet in the state of são paulo


she got off the bed, where she had been languishing,

complaining about the heat and her lot and my,

what was it?, brutality or indifference— i forget,

or the fact that i was not as manly as some on

television, or the fact that i did not have a

car. she would have liked to learn to drive, to

get more easily to the mall, to see her cousin in

mogi das cruzes. there are many things to

be desired, and never time, or the right man,

or the proper amount of royalty. she stood behind

the bed and looked at this poem and said don’t

think for a moment i can’t tell what you’re doing

typing typing you call that work and i said

how can you tell you can’t read and she said you’re

writing a list. i said a list like what a shopping list of all

the garbage you think i should buy you but she said

you’re writing a list of all the things you hate

about me, there—what’s reading got to do with it?




yangtze spring festival


though often—huddled against the radiator—

moaning the delay of overpraised and underachieving

spring—we cursed the archer, who might have left

us several of the former suns—and the goddess, who

cannot mend our chasm—and the ancestors, entableted

in faraway demanding villages, screaming their due

of money, smoke, and sex. peppers on our doors.

petals on the beds. the new year is come—and

the demon is at the river landing—there are no gates

to a town—and the generals on our doors are made

of paper and another year’s faith—with fortune upside-

down, though not arriving—and birds and men

and snakes of sugar—rabbit lanterns—a new divinity

every quarter-mile—for retribution in dusty courts

of justice in the moon-and-woman-world. meanwhile,

they had no living children—despite the months

and smallpox names. they said it casually. grandfather

lying gasping by the only fire, his chest compressed

from the weight of the blankets—the little

ghosts traipsed in to play with ghastly tops and

stick-rolled-rings. bells—hanging armoured-van-hubcaps—

rung from underneath the poplar to school—and

in the other palaces, dancing women, all beauty

being snakes and demons. the dragon emerges from

the sky, but vanishes instantly in the well…

and we are left, concatenations, conflagrations,

conurbations, clusters of conscious succession,

sections of being, always disloyal to the past,

obsolete towards the future, disbelieving in the

fleeted and coming but never being





turns out you can still


 turns out you can still sit by the qinhuai river—among

the molded concrete panda sculptures from the centenary

art school and on the boardwalk created for lovers in the

day and—somehow their reincarnation—drunks like us

by night. zhang li says no one comes here because it’s free.

light clatters down from new bridges, branding the water

like a bar code. lamps between willows streak cross the

surface like upside-down fountains. there are so many

things—perhaps even us—just short of beauty—but they

are too lurid, or brief, or sad, or small. of course the fault

lies with us, the cataracts of our eyes and rivers. even in

a handful of water, the moon is surprisingly small, empty.

no one admiring would drown himself for it. the tv tower

showing violet against the never-darkened skies, looms like

some laughable terror. a peanut shell falls in, drifts along.

i see a shadow or an ant or maybe just its own fibre trapped

inside the filling vessels on the poison course.




all the pretty plane trees of nanking


when this was the capital the french gave nanking plane trees

which were planted evenly along the avenues

these provided shade and a european touch

urban planning for a republic that never quite obtained

and so a century dwindles above them in gunfire flags and fogs

even the subway hasn’t even uprooted them all yet

it’s hard to know what to wish for in a case like that

health and beauty are such backbiting sisters

every year people will say as for me i don’t usually have allergies

but this spring i don’t know why i wake up my eyes streaming

every spring we have forgotten the venomous dowry

and the city kids must for shade and beauty seasonally ritually choke

the eyes swell shut the gaze is sealed in

the pollen goes into your throat and it blocks the passage of air

it builds up and the trees occlude your intake

life becomes a blind and labored narrow strait

blocked by reproduction

promiscuous history is a gift from abroad pollinating

propagating itself and my throat is thickening closing filling

the proliferating past gets into my airways and staunches my blood, my line.

the past the leafy beautiful past picturesquely strangling its children.




on visiting old flames


he had become an old man

left his teenage daughter playing on the computer

took his smokes

we walked around a bit

between the gritted blocks

on the crowded streets

bought some candy his wife wanted

i said so now we’re the kind

of grubby old fogey

who doesn’t mind wearing

pyjamas in public?

the whole world is your bedroom?

no it’s because the whole world

is not my bedroom he said

unlike some people i know

there was a beat there i guess

and i felt the smart from the pavement

on account of my cheap shoes

with the holes where i get wet when it rains

we had no choice but to

have a good laugh then

because how else can you stay

friends with old settled scurvy pyjama men

you once knew and loved













Canadian-born, Josh Stenberg divides his time between Asia, Europe, and North America. He writes fiction and poetry, and works as an academic, translator and interpreter (Chinese-English, Chinese-French). Recent credits include The Antigonish Review, The Queen’s Quarterly, Contemporary Verse 2 and Estuaire.  




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