Five Poems by Liu Xia
By: Liu Xia
Translated By: Ming Di , Jennifer Stern
Today PEN America features five previously untranslated poems by Lia Xia, artist, poet, and wife of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo. Liu Xia has been held under extralegal house arrest for more than three years, with almost no contact with the outside world. This week, PEN also posted a rare video smuggled out of China that shows Liu Xia reading two of her poems at home.
These poems were translated from the Chinese by Ming Di and Jennifer Stern.
The red-faced man goes fishing and catches
your favorite fish, a black fish, a fish who knows
your thoughts. Your heart splits in pain
and your teeth clench. Dejected
you stroke the sea, and where your hand
touches, fish jump up—so many fish.So many fish
seduce the red-faced man to hoist the sail
and set out to sea for the night,
forgetting it’s dark. One may get lost.
You reach out your arms and pull the red-faced
man close, his hair floating like green seaweed.
Then you calm down and light a cigarette—green
smoke rises. The next day, when firecrackers
clear the way for the full black sail,
you become a gust of wind, a cloud, an eye.
The woman who loses the man loses
her breast milk overnight. You appear
in the dreams of that thirsty child often,
telling him his father is happy in the sea.
And he is happy. The child becomes a man
keeping silent all day long. He remembers
everything but says nothing.
The woman’s tide ebbs in the distance
and the green seaweed moves with each wave.
Fragment No. 8
I often look at the light
and feel warm, then loss
when I have to leave the page.
I want to be in light.
My strength, worked for years,
has become dust. A tree
can be destroyed
which ends the thinking.
For me the future is
a closed window
where night has no end
and nightmares can’t be lifted.
I want to be in light.
Another Kind of Death
Joseph, the mute child, stands
in the shadow of a piano dark as a big blackbird.
Sunlight doesn’t reach him
and neither does the candlelight
from the hospital chapel.
I can’t touch him with my hands.
He stands there year after year
as the pages of the music book turn.
As the pages of the music book turn
he stands there year after year
and I can’t touch him with my hands.
The candlelight from the hospital chapel
doesn’t reach him, nor does sunlight.
In the shadow of a piano dark as a big blackbird
Joseph, the mute child, stands.
June 2nd, 1989
— for Xiaobo
This isn’t good weather
I said to myself
standing under the lush sun.
Standing behind you
I patted your head
and your hair pricked my palm
making it strange to me.
I didn’t have a chance
to say a word before you became
a character in the news,
everyone looking up to you
as I was worn down
at the edge of the crowd
and watching the sky.
A new myth, maybe, was forming
there, but the sun was so bright
I couldn’t see it.
I’m the soul in the body
of the man named Nijinsky.
Gaunt, I eat little, only
what the spirit feeds me.
I hate having a bloated
stomach. It inhibits dancing.
I’m afraid of crowds,
of dancing for them—
they demand a joyful jig
but joy is death. They feel
nothing but want
my life to match theirs.
I stay home to avoid
the crowds. Shutting
myself up in one room,
I stare at the walls and ceiling
to feel a life in this prison.
I’m a philosopher who thinks
with my body, I’m biological
theater, non-fiction, the body
of spirit whose language is
poetry. I am prosody.
Sleeping pills don’t work,
and alcohol doesn’t work.
I’m exhausted and watnt to stop
but this spirit in me won’t permit it.
I need to go, to go
to some great height and look down.
I need to go until I reach that height
I need to go.
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