Sun Wenbo







The Butterfly Effect


With twists and turns, I talk butterflies into women,

talk women into nymphs, talk nymphs into tigers,

talk tigers into bureaucrats, talk bureaucrats into wrathful gods.

Going a step further, what else can I say?

I’d have to ask you. It wouldn’t do not to ask. I can also

do the reverse, talk wrathful gods into bureaucrats, bureaucrats into tigers,

tigers into nymphs, nymphs into women, women

into butterflies. The natural order moves in cycles, we’re not only

spinning inside language. One word trails another.

Or you might say, no word stands on its own.

Expanding on this, if the word war didn’t exist,

there’d be no word for peace, no word for despotism,

and no need for the word democracy.

If you say the word man, the word woman has to follow.

If you say the word good, the emergence of the word evil has more meaning.

If you say virtuous, there has to be lascivious to counter it.

I sometimes bring up lizards, which means we’re talking about flies,

and if we’re talking about flies, we’re not just talking about nausea,

rather, talking about nausea means we’re talking about the world we live in.

For example, this poem here, although it started with the word butterflies,

I know its final destination is the word politics.

But when I take apart the word politics, thousands of other words

might replace it: for example, haze, snow and ice, landslide—

or, what can substitute in is a panda drinking tea, a crow singing opera.




Our Reality


Words aren’t enough. Beneath this secluded body,

you never know what is hidden.

Soul, that outmoded word, can’t be explained.

And what will happen this winter—is it a sedan?

Will it will slip in an instant on a snowy road,

you can’t predict—but can you guess what will happen?

You can’t turn these imaginings into a cavernous courtyard,

or it will be a kind of distant religion; round pillars, stained glass windows,

carved wooden beds; an ancient organ begins to ring out with the singing—

is this too absurd? A secluded body

is a solid fortress, a private nation

with complex instincts and desires—to you, it’s a hell,

to others it’s a heaven; these are the two extremes of fate—

if you really want to go in, what you’ll likely see

is a prison of thoughts, hiding the gallows and the torture rack—

and what happens if you get lost in there? Such questions

can be asked a thousand times. They can extend

in other directions—like people endlessly discussing horoscopes,

as though it has some connection to their souls—can you really understand

the faint assemblages of light hung in the night? The matter moving there

corresponds to movement through the channels of the body—to enter,

is this not just wishful thinking, not just the empty aspirations of words?

We should stop for a moment—ah, this secluded body,

place words can’t reach… burial ground for words.




Elegy for a Poisoned Era


Straining isn’t a simple word. Straining

is a tremendous force, created inside your body.

But how can you face what other people say?

Straining, from the lungs down to the anus, the pain appears and disappears.

This is the dirtiest part of the body, the body’s waste.

It’s too disturbing. Too hopeless. It makes standing impossible,

sitting impossible. It’s impossible not to think about it, that a man’s body

really doesn’t belong to him, it belongs to the nation of bacteria.

Bacterial farm fields and bacterial grazing lands and bacterial cities.

Now what will they do? Raise their own sheep,

grow their own poppies? Or convene

a plenary meeting of their own government. Anyway, anyway! It hurts you.

It makes you think of hell. Secluded forests, cold gloomy rivers,

scorching cities. Walking through them are your dead acquaintances.

They become your body’s internal scenery. Is there really nothing else:

a landscape of plastic, steel, glass? They are tempering you.

Whether you’re awake or asleep, you see your body

as a battlefield after battle, a scene of carnage. But you also see

it’s getting worse, your soul is heading toward another landscape,

a green meadow, a forest filled with the scent of flowers.

Rivers, lakes, fish and fowl, maybe a sky like a bright mirror,

clouds as white as blossoms. And the night comes on, the myriad stars glitter.

So that’s why you have the feeling of rising rather than straining down.

To scramble and clamber, is that the meaning of life? Such questions

belong to time.

Perhaps only when death arrives will an answer appear.

But, when that happens, after it all, could there be another meaning?



© Trans. by Eleanor Goodman









Sun Wenbo (b.1956), is the author of many poetry books, including: Travels Over A Map (1997), The Love Songs for Xiaobei (1998), Sun Wenbo’s Poems(2001), It is almost About Nothing(2010), etc. He is also the author of literary essay collection “Writing in Relativity” (2010). He is the chief or co-chief editor of some unofficial poetry journals: Red Flag, The 90s, Opposition, Small Journal, Shouxiang Mountains, etc. He is awarded the first Anne Kao Poetry Prize in 1996, the third Peal River International Poetry Festival Prize in 2009.




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