Yu Jian  

On this Endless Journey
translated: WanPing USA

On this endless journey
I often see lights
appearing through the mist in the mountains or in the wilderness
sometimes they vanish after a moment
sometimes they stay with us a long time
like a pair of eyes radiating tenderness and love
they pass through forests and jump over lakes
then reappear from distant mists between the hills
these tiny yellow stars
give the dark earth
a warm and friendly face
I want to stop the train
and run towards them
because I am convinced that any lamplight what so ever
can change my fate
that from that moment my life
becomes a different landscape
but all I do is stare at the lights
stare as they flash by flash by
across the darkened earth
our carriage silently speeds on
in the pitch-dark compartment
someone sleeps soundly by my side



The last summer storm
sticks out its black tongue,
its edged gleam hidden,
a tongue that pecks the whole sea
and neatly chops mosquitoes’ legs,
those blood suckers of the world,
which used to make all animals shake their limbs
and drop down one by one
like mimes palming imaginary glass.
The skin then goes calm as water
with nothing to do all night.
Like a strip of blue flannel,
a cool breeze
wipes clean one star after another,
as if they’re used wine glasses.
Scattered in clear sky,
bright or dim,
glittering with their true brilliance.

--trans. by Mei Shenyou, Diana Shi & George O’Connell


this dark is an absolute
substance not a chest within a chest
nor a lock within a lock nor an iron chain
nor a coalmine soon to collapse
nor a metaphor nor the face of a corpse
behind a mask that you may remove
God grants no power to shift darkness
the bright who finally understand turn toward light’s shelter
if not this path drift on the raft and die
some glorious fireflies feeling lucky
raise their lamps to flounder in the pitch dark void
thinning its tough substance
so beyond redemption so beyond hope

~Yu Jian, trans. © Diana Shi & George O’Connell


the queen of summer sits alone in the garden of her old estate
served by shoals of fragrance forests ranked like samurai
bees relay her distant thoughts
snow-capped mountains the plain below
lakes swelling from the mouths of creeks
the leopards’ gaze profound
packs of wolves traverse the swamps
a wheeling hawk recedes in vastness born so late
I can't be a subject of this kingdom
except sometimes at dusk
when partridge in dark woods flex their legs
or deer turn their heads toward wind I sense
a kind of life a secret order
a civilization veiled so deep in nature
my words can never speak

~Yu Jian, trans. © Diana Shi & George O’Connell


That rainy day, we sat here
speaking of the dead: Wang Wei, Li Bai, Su Shi.
No doubt they're dead. But where on earth are their writings?
These liars, wandering the old country
only across grandfathers’ rice paper. Outside the window
a postman in grey raincoat pushed off on his bicycle.
Han Xuzi passed the exam to high school--congratulations!
Ni Tao, radio announcer, steeped himself in beer.
A text message came,
some friend on a Tibetan mountain,
his horse staring up at snow.
Then mother called, trying to get home.
She’d bought green peas, got lost in the supermarket on Xichang Road.
A black dog darted from the kitchen,
weaving through our legs
as if pillars in a temple.
When we dipped our chopsticks, one put his hat on.
Believing in God, he’d rather not dine with meat eaters,
yet his smile didn’t bruise our friendship.
Bound for Mecca to open doors for newcomers,
the old Wei and Jin-style friendship in his arms,
he quietly drank the leftover wine. To leave or stay,
decisions that count always look trivial.
The duck half-eaten--some food’s hard to swallow.
Bring more to the table, then more. Potatoes are best, never sickening.
When he left, a long sleeve of yellow dust rose to choke us,
a bulldozer gnawing between the garden and some ruins,
as if a fat skeleton lay beneath.
So many roots tilted up from earth, even gods' graves could not escape.
How the dust whirled in my hometown. The banquet over, the guests gone,
we payed the bill, then stepped toward the boil of the bustling road.

~Yu Jian, trans. © Diana Shi & George O'Connell


On its Saturdays
the washing machine
revolves with pleasure,
wearing away the owner’s clothes--
wearing away the brightness,
wearing down the fibers,
rubbing out the stains.
All this wear
keeps us clean
day after day.
Blessed be the woolen sweater
on gentle cycle
that wants to match her red skirt.

--trans. by Mei Shenyou, Diana Shi & George O’Connell

On its Saturdays
the washing machine
revolves with pleasure,
wearing away the owner’s clothes--
wearing away the brightness,
wearing down the fibers,
rubbing out the stains.
All this wear
keeps us clean
day after day.
Blessed be the woolen sweater
on gentle cycle
that wants to match her red skirt.

--trans. by Mei Shenyou, Diana Shi & George O’Connell

Sunday, a proletarian on the avenue.
His gaze not firmly fixed on the road ahead,
he casts timid glances toward the pavement,
seeking a wallet he won’t stoop for.

--trans. by Mei Shenyou, Diana Shi & George O’Connell

Ninety poets are reminded of darkness
at the same moment
by one crow.

Ninety thousand crows
like night in motion
fly over a single crow.

Yet that crow won’t think

--trans. by Mei Shenyou, Diana Shi & George O’Connell

How to capture a live leopard
inside a rock?
And how to find a rock
that does not budge an inch
within the leopard?

--trans. by Mei Shenyou, Diana Shi & George O’Connell


To plant a tree in the earth,
dig a hole,
sow the seeds in fresh darkness,
cover with soil, water,
and wait
for rain,

To plant a tree in the floor of a library,
you need a structural blueprint,
tools, even dynamite
to tear through layer after layer
of steel rebar, concrete,
the whole foundation,
then pour water,
letting the lowest floor
come free
to recall the dark.

--trans. by Zhang Yajing, Diana Shi & George O’Connell

Contemporary Chinese poet, essayist, literary critic, novelist, editor, photographer, documentary filmmaker, and university professor Yu Jian (1954— ) was born and raised in Kunming, Yunnan Province. Arguably the most prolific Chinese-language poet of our time, he is widely recognized as one of the foremost poets of his generation. His numerous publications, which span more than three decades and various literary genres, include the landmark five-volume Collected Yu Jian (Yunnan People’s Publishing, 2004), the four-volume Selected Essays of Yu Jian (Shaanxi Normal University Press, 2010), and more recently Who Is He: Poems 2007-2011 (Chongqing University Press, 2013). Yu Jian's writings have been translated into fourteen languages, including English as well as major European and Asian languages. Among his documentaries are Hometown (2009) and Jade Green Station (in collaboration with anthropologist Zhu Xiaoyang, 2003), both of which constitute a cinematic expression that allows Yu Jian to extend his poetic, humanistic vision to his ongoing ecological, socio-political, and cultural concerns about life in Yunnan. A regular guest at major poetry festivals, Yu Jian has held lectures and readings at leading universities and literary venues worldwide. He has lived his whole life in his native city, Kunming.


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