Zhang Er







Let it Be Distinguished.

Let it Be Pure.


don’t move, don’t shake

don’t want instant noodle boxes, cigarette butts, soda bottles

don’t want tissue paper, fruit pit, garbage bag

don’t want another cold dish or diced chicken with garlic sauce

don’t want color, negative or positive

don’t want sound, nor the plot

don’t want a big scene, nor the actors

don’t want tears, nor resentment

no need for name-brand clothes, makeup

nor bra, flowery panties

don’t want you to bleed

don’t dynamite the old house

don’t dam river, build bridge instead

tell me story, don’t lecture

don’t look at me that way

don’t feed me apple guts

hold me tight

don’t allow this handful of clear crystal to change into turbid soup

hold me tight

don’t let your dark current

wash away these mornings, afternoons, nights

filled with laughter filled with




Plastic Flowers in the Porthole


Don’t rearrange the Everyday!  It’s Beauty

itself, no – the search for same.

In five hundred years, indigestible plastic

emerges as Classic Art. As for you,

you are Eternity:  flowing

non-stop, paying total voracious attention

to the outlines of things.

The silhouette scissors

cut room for various volumes and surfaces!

Alright then, how

should we treat life,

with all its transient needs?

Hunger, for example, sex

and (ta da!) marriage contract? Mountains rivers

all rush by-

men, women, their

enthusiastic creations-

where to put them all? What could possibly hold them?

Meaningless sky

matches the vase of plastic flowers,

blossoms bright industrial smile.




Bridge Under Construction


When two points join, the suspense will be over.

Now colorful flags blow! Bridge probes the bottomless

heart of the river. Will it make it to the other side?

Maybe it just spreads its wide shoulders,

lets the boats glide under, no visible

wake. Birds above,

naturally. Immovable

mountain embraces

huts, houses, highrises.


Is this it, love?

calm surface

yellow water

yellow soil:


the seventh layer       five thousand years

the tenth layer                       eight thousand years


sediment churns up

beauty, small clay pot, a fish tail.

I throw myself into your arms

lean against your chest of steel, and cry—

your body wakes

flowing water tenderness


bottomless depth       ninety-ninth layer.






The cook makes the sauce— « Shua »!

hot pot encounters cold tomato

homeland. A tiny spot of

memory bitter like tea leaves clings

to the worn spoon.

Scarlet ribbon wrappings layer over layer,

way way beyond exotic.

They are handing out menus again.

In and out, practice the union

of east and west. You

stand outside the door


waiting for that man

to walk out of your heart.


Let him wait, pitilessly let him wait

till the oil heats up, thick smoke rises,

serve bowl after bowl:



Yang Chow

even Singapore fried rice…

she diligently translates

fried eggs, already overcooked

but still translating.

Want some shredded meat huh?

Hot sauce huh?

Sit still like a good student.

Answer, I want it soft and slow.

How much time do I have?

When it strikes 12 midnight

you will change back to the cook’s wife

cleaning the table, sweeping the floor.


Drink it first, peel

down taste layer after layer:

dark vegetation, naked soil

roots buried deep, water source.

An effortless touch, such tacit thread.

You are wet

You are wet too

all over

long bench in the garden, stone bridge

he stands, wheezing, checking the scenery

motionless in the rain

black and white


She tentatively presses down the save key,

hits return. Now finally

spoon out the flamboyant oil,

tender yellow fried egg emerges

from the soup bowl with matching plate.

Coriander leaves?


Bare feet, little girl style

pajama scallion green

comes downstairs

embraced by such a love

kept in the mouth

wet, dripping

how did you come here?

how did you find such

a creative way

to keep warm?

Secret channel:

a dare to go down

and more, a patience to wait

I want to swallow you.

Noodles dripping wet.



(Translated from Chinese by Bob Holman with the author)












Zhang Er, born in Beijing, is the author of five collections of poetry in Chinese, most recently Morning, Not Yet.  Her selected poems appeared in two bilingual collections, So Translating Rivers and Cities and Verses on Bird. She co-edited and participated in the translation of the bilingual volume Another Kind of Nation: an Anthology of Contemporary Chinese Poetry. Her current poetry projects include a forth-coming collection of short poems in Chinese with illustration and an English version of her book First Mountain in collaboration. She also writes opera libretti in English for American composers including Moon in the Mirror (premiered in 2015) and Fiery Jade Cai Yan (premiered in 2016).



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