Image credit: Normal Gergely, "Space Administration #10" : mixed media

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The Movement of Stars

The old carpenter believes all things in the world are God’s gifts.
He traces the grain of the wood and says,
This is the movement of stars.
I remember how he taught his apprentice to paint the furniture,
a shade of blue brushing anything off during the day,
but at night, becomes transparent, thin as an echo.
The sky was full of stars when he died —
What is transformed into that endless cycle of light?
A fengshui master can also connect stars with the world. He warned us
not to plant trees randomly, drill wells, demolish houses, move
or marry Xiao Hong next door against God’s will,
but I know the paint on old furniture always peels away.
Our palm line, forehead wrinkles … like the grain
of the wood, split by an ax.
— It’s important to look upward.
After a period of noise, a ripe mind is bound to produce wisdom.
“What’re you afraid of?” I ask myself. The stars
gaze down at us too. If you gaze back long enough,
they will blink — with their own perplexity, like
an unfathomable fear that needs to be named.

 

 

Insect in Amber

 

He knows how to see now, including his own fate.
The slow solidification took away his initial anxiety and fear,
even his death. He looks alive now.
You’re almost alive, he tells himself, except
you can’t move or grow old, you are just the same as before.
He is curious he has new ideas. Unable to store them
in the absolute stillness around, he holds them
at the bottom of his heart.
The light casts his shadow like a desire into the outside world.
His compound eyes see countless desires, for instance:
Below his immovable feet, there is always a ladder
bright, almost invisible, shifting slowly
and mistaking his long stillness for a brief moment.

 

 

Maqu*

Grazing sheep rarely raise their heads.
Like people ruminating on the past, they must
lick clean patiently the bowl of memory.

It’s hard to know what a climber sees.
at the top of the mountain he leaves behind an empty space.

I’ve been to the top of the mountain.
I’ve seen the peaks and prairies receding toward the horizon
— the Yellow River flows between,
no river longer than this river,
no mountain higher than this mountain.

Shepherds seldom hum the longer tunes.
If they sing, a yak will raise its head
— a stranger’s face.

* “Maqu” in the Tibetan language means Yellow River.



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《星相》

老木匠认为,人间万物都是上天所赐,
他摸着木头上的花纹说,那就是星相。
我记得他领着徒弟给家具刷漆的样子,某种蓝
白天时什么都能刷掉,到了夜晚,
则透明,回声一样稀薄。
他死时繁星满天。什么样的转换
在那光亮中循环不已?
能将星空和人间搭起来的还有
风水师,他教导我们,不可妄植草木,打井,拆迁,
或把
隔壁的小红娶回家,因为,这有违天意。
而我知道的是,老家具在不断掉漆,
我们的掌纹、额纹……都类似木纹,类似
某种被利斧劈开的东西。
——眺望仍然是必须的,因为
老透了的胸怀,嘈杂过后就会产生理智。
“你到底害怕什么?” 当我自问,星星们也在
朝人间张望,但只有你长时间盯着它,
它才会眨眼——它也有不解的疑难,类似
某种莫名的恐惧需要得到解释。

 

 

《琥珀里的昆虫》

它懂得了观察,以其之后的岁月。
当初的慌乱、恐惧,一种慢慢凝固的东西吸走了它们,
甚至吸走了它的死,使它看上去栩栩如生。
“你几乎是活的”,它对自己说,“除了
不能动,不能一点点老去,一切都和从前一样”。
它奇怪自己仍有新的想法,并谨慎地
把这些想法放在心底以免被吸走因为
它身体周围那绝对的平静不能
存放任何想法。
光把它的影子投到外面的世界如同投放某种欲望。
它的复眼知道无数欲望比如
总有一把梯子被放到它不能动的脚爪下。
那梯子明亮、几乎不可见,缓缓移动并把这
漫长的静止理解为一个瞬间。

 


《玛曲》

吃草的羊很少抬头,
像回忆的人,要耐心地
把回忆里的东西
吃干净。

登高者,你很难知道他望见了什么。
他离去,丟下一片空旷在山顶。

我去过那山顶,在那里,
我看到草原和群峰朝天边退去。
——黄河从中流过,
而更远的水不可涉,
更高的山不可登。

更悠长的调子,牧人很少哼唱,
一唱,就有牦牛抬起头来,
——一张陌生人的脸孔。

Translator Notes

I first met Hu Xian in Nanjing on December 13, 2017, almost six months after I started translating his poems. Maybe because I stared at his picture on social media every day, I felt I knew him many years. But it was still somehow different to see him in person. What caught me first was his smile, a kind of apologetic smile, a sly one which tended to hide a profound sharp observing mind. I asked him what he was busy with those days, he told me that he was writing a self-criticism because he failed to report something on time. It reminded me of my daily numerous tedious obligations as a lawyer. Then we started to laugh. Hu and I are almost same age. We grew up in the glooming year post “Cultural Revolution” and were later caught up by a rapid changing in China. I would say that although I left China for the US, we were imprinted by the same culture and language. Both of us started to write poems during our college years, except I stopped for a long time; he continued his writing without any interruption. Hu once told me that he felt he could write poems into very old age because for him, poetry is not only a way to view the world, but also the only way to define who we are. I am glad to translate his beautifully structured poems from Chinese to English. The more I am involved in translation, the more I believe that a translation demands a real soul searching for the man behind his letters. Right after I returned to New York, I finished the translation of six Hu Xian poems. What is presented here is my understanding of Hu Xian, not just his poems, but also his thoughts and emotion.
—Joan Xie


Joan Xie
Sam Perkins

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