Zhang Shuguang

 

 

(China)

 

 

 

HUMAN LABOR

 

A whole morning to split wood.

Stack vegetables for winter.

Seal the doors, the panes

against the faintest thread of wind or snow.

Beyond the glass, the tree’s stripped off its leaves.

Who can say it grieves.

All the groundhog work we do,

learning how to wait.

 

 

©Trans. by Diana Shi & George O’Connell

 

 

 

CASSANDRA

 

No one believes what I say,

no one. When I speak, they

just laugh, talk about weather, or idly

watch pigeons on the square, pecking,

cooing for a mate. No one believes

anything I say. Children hang back,

tossing stones, how they treated old Cézanne.

When dusk absolves the leaves of olive trees,

stones on the city wall incline toward history.

Herdsmen number their returning sheep, the bars

breathe out tobacco smoke, but no one,

no one believes me. They chatter on

about that crash long ago, seen on TV,

the playboy making off with the wife of that oil tycoon,

sex scandals, eau de cologne, cauliflowers, Edward Said.

Fingering the past like a precious photo album,

no one believes what I say.

Night cloaks with an armor no arrow can pierce.

Neither rain nor flood lashes our shores.

The cinema unspools that sinking

seventy years ago. As I said

on another occasion, or maybe in a poem,

we need only a box office, someplace

to trade banknotes for tears. Neither hope

nor fear. The shadow of a carousel horse

crouches silent in the flowerbed,

archaic prophet.

 

 

©Trans. by Diana Shi & George O’Connell

 

 

 

WHAT CAN I SAY

 

What can I say, in the face of this heartless world

Cold and indifferent as snow? Clowns wear masks

Seemingly in high spirits.“life means happiness,”they say,

But that’s not how I see it. I can never be happy.

Forests are disappearing, rivers are drying up.

The years bring not wisdom but increasing apprehension.

Snow keeps falling. Like small talk on a winter afternoon.

But in the face of truth, I can say nothing.

 

 

©Trans. by Howard Goldblatt

 

 

 

TALES HULAN RIVER

 

Since my first sight of the river, turbid

Yellow, knowing its name from a novel,

Flowing lazily, not rushing along,

Turning and moving slowly to the northeast,

Forty years gone by.

I grew up on its banks, another

County town, before I’d read the novel,

and not knowing who wrote it.

But I’d heard stories about the river, like,

a certain County Chief murdered his first wife,

a country girl, threw her body into the river.

Then came a flood, carried her body to

the gate of her family home, and it never left.

I never saw her body, but I’ve seen

Drowned pigs,chickens,entantgled in foam

and sodden weeds, floating off to the horizon.

Two miles from the county town. That year

Mother moved into a riverside sanatorium,

My kid brother and I went there on summer break,

Sneaking out in a boat to cast nets with the

Grown-ups,to catch fish and put them

In a puddle outside, keeping them on the alive,

or quickly cooking and putting them on the table.

Oh,such a long time, that summer. But I

Still recall the sky poking through reeds—

Clouds floating by ,so peaceful and quiet—

With the rank smell of river on the breezy air.

Silently it flowed, people living

on both banks,poor,happy

or laden with misery. It has witnessed so much

suffering, so much death. Two of my schoolmates

–primary and secondary—drowned in it.

Liu Juan’s mother gave him a

girl’s name, to keep him from harm, they say;

then there was Chen Xiaofeng,a tall boy,

good-looking, today they’d call him lady-killer.

He would be in his forties, if he’d lived,

Might have a paunch like other men.

I ‘m still around, living with the sorrow

left behind by the dead. So many deaths,

too many to bear. Here is where I mourn

my mother, her brother, grandmothers—both of them

–two of my father’brothers,mourn the passing

Of time and of memory, mourn a river bound to

dry up, but maybe not for many years yet.

A tributary of the Sungari River,it merges

With the Heilong River, and empties into the sea.

 

 

©Trans. by Howard Goldblatt

 

 

 

PLATO AND THE POETS

 

After the poets were banished from Utopia, they

began to roam the world of men. With the passage of years,

they were weighed down with filth, their voices

turned hoarse. But Plato did not

hang around for long. Dante arranged for him a place

in Limbo, Hell’s most peaceful level.

Now free to propagate his philosophy.

What made him unhappy was that poets he disliked

were there with him. They quarreled all day long,

chanting one moment, chasing women the next.

 

 

©Trans. by Howard Goldblatt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

____________________________________________

 

Zhang Shuguang was born in 1956 in Heilongjiang province. He begang writing poetry in college, adopting a robust, hearty style. He has translated into Chinese Dante’s Divine Comedy and the poetry of Milosz. He  teaches literature at a college in harbin.

 

 

 

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