Xi Chuan Answering Venus (45 Fragments) (selection)
translated from the Chinese by Lucas Klein

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night is the sleep of seven wax moths
dawn is the singing of five mermen
noon is the scratches of three fieldmice
dusk is the shadow of a crow

a glass of plain water
given to a bird passing by
who gulps

three hens
pass out
before a microphone

Nine icy peaks of the Himalayas.
Nine enigmas on my mind.
Nine sages.
Nine goddesses guarding their chastity.

a scholar in the wilderness
agitated by a stray thought
restrained by a bird

a bundle of sunlight
beaming down by the hands of
a poor child gleaning for wheat

who dares say this near-sighted guy won’t be
the inventor of some new method of torture?
who dares say he won’t be the first to taste that torture?

        28. The Revolution of 1911
Steel guns. Cannons. Angel’s barracks.
Enough for those violent types
to choke on

        29. Lüshun Prison
Corridor. Gate all dust. Hand of moonlight
on the southern tip of Liaodong peninsula
one thousand prisoners listening to the tide

        30. Pound
lonely Ezra Pound peels a tangerine
when the moon soundlessly slips through the Atlantic sky
Ezra Pound broods on the whole of humanity

there is no place on earth with no trace of man
my home
used to have someone else living in it

when my life is a mess
my watch is particularly precise

Crows resolve the problems of crows,
I resolve my own problems.

the lonelier, the more guests to invite
the poorer, the more poems to recite

a faraway construction site is in turmoil
a thirty-three story building rises from the ground
piling thirty-three stories of darkness into the sky

An abandoned movie theatre.
A leopard
waiting for a movie to start

but nature doesn’t care about being covered in dust
when have you ever heard of
wild animals complaining about too much dust

a serene field
an unveering railway stretching to the moon
a serene field
a freight train loaded with money speeds toward the moon

Metal on the moon. Dirt on the moon.
Rocks in the sky. Clouds skimming a dreamscape.
Someone went there, but is back now.

the morning of a total eclipse of the sun, the city was covered in ash
there was no fire, there was no sound
somebody walked by between me and the sun


Xi Chuan (the penname of Liu Jun), a poet, essayist, and translator, was born in 1963 in Jiangsu province, and graduated from the English Department of Peking University in 1985. Formerly a visiting adjunct professor to New York University (2007) and Orion Visiting artist at University of Victoria, Canada (2009), he now teaches Classical and Modern Chinese literature at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. Xi Chuan has published four collections of poems, including A Fictitious Family Tree (1997) and Roughly Speaking (1997), two books of essays, and one book of criticism, in addition to a play and translations ranging from Ezra Pound to Jorge Luis Borges to Czeslaw Milosz. His own poetry and essays have also been widely anthologized and translated. His the prizes, honors, and fellowships include the Modern Chinese Poetry Award (1994), UNESCO-ASCHBERG bursaries of artists (1997), the national Lu Xun Prize for Literature (2001), and the Zhuang Zhongwen Prize for Literature (2003). He was also named one of the top ten winners of the Weimar International Essay Prize Contest (Germany, 1999).

This material is © Xi Chuan
English translation © Lucas Klein
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