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A conversation in the wind

At Longqiao Bar

Those high-stemmed glasses hanging in the air
Those throats containing sands and shreds of gold
Those hips freely twisting and turning, with their accessories
Those melodious whistlings and hoarse roars
Those arms that swing and shine, the bunches of hair tightly bundled
Those shaking floorboards and heart-beatings on the shoes

Those eyes let loose at midnight, bottles tipsy
Those people: what's the difference between them and you
But those people: they are different from themselves by day
Those who pull a long face at home
Those who have been blown out onto the streets from home
Those who enter by the glass and exit by it, too
Those who lean against the bar table and stand by the pillars
Those who wear the uniforms and look dubious
Those who live off the flowers and the commotion
Those who, suppressed, are behind the city that quickly darkens
Those who roam the Longqiao Bar
Those who are thin and tall, bent double like a cat
Those who you love and do not understand
Those who suck on the lipstick
Those who smoke and drink, sitting in a corner
Those who lose much and gain little
Those who want to be forgotten and taken away
Those who you love but who don't love you
Those who don't love you and do not know you
Those not knowing you some of whom have noticed you
Those who, having noticed you, do not understand you
Those who do not understand you, looking at you
Those who are looking at you and do not find it odd
Those people, who are not surprised that you are crouching over the bar table
Drawing ants at sixes and sevens


A fake rattan chair

For long, I wanted to get a chair
Not the wooden kind, but the rattan one
It would be best if it were the old kind, shiny with wear
With a solid support
Like the one my old dad had used when I was little
Now, however, there is no one
Who would go to that length with the handiwork

One summer, I was finally able to secure one
The kind made of artificial plastic
As its seat and back, hard to come by, perfectly
Fitted my buttocks and my thin, long body
I didn't haggle over the price and, in one go
I shouldered it back to my rented room
Sitting it near the window

At first, I was daily wondering
How to sit in it
(A bit a la Calvino)
To read, to sun myself and to think some 'hard' questions
However, apart from doing that in it a couple of times
Reading a couple of pages by Paulo Coelho and Yu Jian
I'd soon left it to one side

Now the fake rattan chair in a black-coated iron frame
Had retired before its time
Like a weary housekeeper. In it, there is a mess consisting of
An old attached case, four unwashed clothes, three sticks of trousers
Two mobile phones, a number of poetry collections and a copy of The Golden Rose
As well as a white bra, just removed
From my girlfriend's breasts


Every day one has to live

Every day one has to live
Not everything a liar tells may be lies
And a good person may inevitably go wordless one day
Should nothing untoward happen
Kids may be born in forty weeks

Every day one has to live
Every day one has to go out, to praise
And to quarrel when home. Every day is a struggle
Clothes get dirty and socks, unwashed, get worn
And they may rebel in a toilet basin

Every day one has to live
Sometimes, hope runs counter to things
And sometimes, you may nod on a bus
Forgetting to get off. It's quite normal
As you may begin to grow weary

Every day one has to live
Sometimes you may commit a mistake before you discover
You yourself have been gutted by life, your brains, though, still filled with
One plan after another, apart from desires
And sometimes you have to put your emotions under control

Every day one has to live
You have to slow down and go places occasionally
Such as the vicinity of the railway station, the old rundown residential district
Where, the day is like a whore
Being whiled away and forgotten, by more people


The pedagogical poem

'I want to do whatever I want to
Why pretend what you are not?'
I have never thought of this before
Probably because I did not even know what
I had been thinking of. However, it was not till my son was born
That I realised, on a sudden, why I had been so spineless
Over the last thirty years
And why I had lived so unwonderfully
Is it because I've been so concerned for others?
Why can't I burst into tears if I want to, not afraid
Of waking people up in their midnight sleep or noon siesta?
Why can't I go to sleep when I want to, not caring
Whether in bed or in sofa or over anyone?
Why can't I laugh out loud when I want to, awake
Or in a dream, or in a certain
Serious meeting, or even on a funereal occasion?
I have finally realised that I have been so unhappy
For the near-half of my life because
I have never been well concerned for myself


The location

Every morning when I pass through here
The most beautiful location of the city
On my way to work, I feel very much like writing poetry

For example, about the bending riverbank
About the weeping willows
Or, at least, about the rushing river waters
Because the city has its most beautiful location here
Known as 'the Bund in Mianyang'
And because below the bank of the weeping willows
Is the Fujiang, ah, Mother River of this city

However, although I have been here for two months
I have not been able to write a poem, a beautiful poem

Because I can never work out
Why the location here, known as 'Sea over Sea', with good food and entertainment
Is parked with the good cars of the city officials
With not a single shadow of an ordinary citizen
When I go through here every evening on my way home



When my gums bled, I kept wondering
If it's the food
Till I found that it's the brush

When husbands and wives quarrelled, I put it down to
Personality clashes
It's not till I got married that I found it's a tradition

I have always thought that writing pretentious poetry
Is a lack of skills
Till I found that it's hypocrisy


A conversation in the wind

We were drinking tea
By the riverbank
An old man was flying a kite
Walking to and fro amidst the crowd at the edge of the square
The season having entered into a deep winter. Despite the sun
The wind that blew still felt cold
You said that the old man was 90
Who kept doing physical exercises on a daily basis or he flew the kite alone
I had wanted to say that the sun was a heater
And the kite was like a paper plane
Two young girls were skating in a distance
A Chihuahua was roaring at another big dog
A middle-aged woman was practicing Tai Chi nearby
We were having a conversation in the wind, about
The futilities of poetry, and criticism of the realities

View original Chinese poems [PDF]

Bai Helin, whose real name is Tang Ruibing, was born in Pengxi, Sichuan, China, in 1973. He began publishing poetry in 1993 and has been widely published in China, won many prizes and published a number of poetry books, including chexing tuzhong (Traveling by Train on the Way).

Ouyang Yu headshotOuyang Yu (English translations) teaches at a Shanghai-based university. His most recent publication of translation is Things I Didn't Know by Roberth Hughes (Nanjing University Press, China, 2013) and his latest publication of creative nonifction, in Chinese, is yixin diaochong (The Translator's Heart Carving an Insect) (Showwe Press, Taiwan, 2013).

Kites image from Shutterstock

Topic tags: Bai Helin, Ouyang Yu, poetry, China



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