A Woman from the Provinces


Illustration of Chinese woman on a road

The Mid-autumn Moon in the Lushan Mountain

At Mid-autumn, the gold coin
Hanging in the sky
That, for generation after generation
Pays for mankind’s swelling expenses
Over the transparently lit night of the cities in the world
Where the moonlight, like a piece of laminated glass, deliberately made old
Is being extorted by the cunningness of human beings
To decorate mountains and waters on the paper
Is like a shining scar

The night, looted by lights
Is publishing the terror of the animals
In a world that, messed up by the ticking of a biological clock
Is beginning to collapse, along with the years of the Great Earthquake
And the harvesting of tsunamis and hurricanes
A fat hand of plastic truth
Is controlling the bloated body of civilization
Where the King of Death has broken the arrow of time
Staring in fury, gnashing its teeth

Tonight, though, I have run away
From the bright city and the bodies sunken into the high rises
To the Lushan Mountain, dressing myself up in the mirror
My hands scooping up the flowing water-moon
Pure features
When I raise my head, the pine branches after the rain in the mountain creek
Are connected with the high skies and the far distance
The pearls of the mid-autumnal moon, breaking from the pain
Fall and fill the Lushan Mountain in my arms


A Yellow Crane Tower

Sometimes, one is more lonely
than a tree
that has shed all its leaves
compared with a tree
all those things, big and small, that have been experienced
have turned into withered twigs
random, leisurely and lazy
wobbling in life
with the blowing of a wind, the heaped burdens
fall, soughing

Sometimes, one has to retreat backwards
taking a sip of baby chrysanthemum tea, and lotus-leave water
bending one’s rusty fingers
as one moves the darkness in one’s fate
as if a temptation is beginning to rise
stuck, as it is, in the throat, getting impatient
Come, light up a Yellow Crane Tower
take a deep drag before breathing it out
another deep drag, before letting it out, slowly
like breathing out
those solitudes surging, in the heart of hearts



This winter, still and aloof
All the ice and snow have fallen on higher places
So white, and, oh, such whiteness
I was standing at the mouth of the wind, my heart ascending
A pure soul! The snow
A miracle at this higher place

Did I wrongly recognize the weather
That I saw the snowed trees filled with pears
As sweet and fragrant as olden days
So many things so happy
Thanking the moment for being alive or dead?
What incidental and bone-carving happiness!
At the edge of snow-whiteness
The petals, covering me up, suddenly vanished


A Woman from the Provinces

This woman, from the provinces, suddenly
Came to the north, with her solid body, of an insomniac heart
And that had not touched snow-flakes
This winter, that hero never reachable
Is elsewhere
Her dejection, her secrecy
And her huge castle: waiting here for nothing

She, like a cynical lover
Penetrated the night, tearing open the darker
Prostrate in the wind, going through the breast of the south
With her sensitive scarf and gloves
Eating the shed tears, excitedly
Her face slipping to an empty land
Empty, where only the soldiers were devouring the oxygen

The woman from the provinces must have disturbed someone
Listen: the noise from below the Square
Countless faces aslant, breathing heavily
Rusting in the shell of broken words

Escaped to a winter elsewhere
Another bloodshed in her memory, vividly alive
A fill of bronze swords on her cold lips
Her fainted hands waving
A screaming magpie, once again
Placed death and danger over the heart


Early Summer of Idealism, the End of the Century

In the mountain city, the house that one has to reach by climbing a slope
And turning corners, is suffering from migraine at the end of the century
A face, rusty, decaying for long
And stained with dust, is calling for death
The fire woks at Little Hole Sky are cracking every night
Hairy belly, Yellow Throat, Duck’s Intestines
Smoking with left tendencies, while wind is rolling up the residual clouds
In this early summer of idealism, isms are running overseas
Alone, I move sadness long distance, towards the castle of prisons
Attempting to pay off the debt to death in a feverish city
Wilful thinking, danger speeding

Shouldering the bulging sacrifices and rash mountains and rivers of June
I, two hours ahead of time, creep across hunger
Across the lower flagstone slope
As memory is lifted from the cement surface and old pain is ready to break out
A cluster of wild grasses squeeze themselves out of the stone seams, hidden overhead
I, with the strength of nine oxen and two tigers, push myself
Through an iron door
A hut in the west wing, guarded by Uncle Policemen
Like the weird music in the room
Yelling, in boring
F flat minor, as confusing and cold
As Chinese cabbage, bulb onion and knotted green vegetables
Chatting family members of the prisoner

Look at my garments with drifting snow
Pure white lace, trying my best to be pure
Causing the heads in uniform to feel guilty in their chairs
A bunch of jasmine flowers, looking outside, is tightly gripping hold of pain
Of the anger that cuts open the palm
A quiet light is released from the reception room in the detention centre
It’s no children’s play; fragrance of the flowers
Is worth the waste, all for the purpose
Of a few cigarette packs and the copy of Duino Elegies, days and nights
So that they could reach
The hands congealing with anemia
The eyeballs of the guard are mopping up the books, an exuberant growth of
Confused images. I am reading for you, from my heart
This age that wrongs after wrong, flowing with ill omens
Deep at night, I, alone
Compress the misery and put it in the drawer
Poetry is my rationed food and, awaiting me, is the grains of rice not yet ripe

‘Hay, Jasmine, what is this place?’
‘This is sitting in a jail,’ the power of their discourse
Let the room sweat weak sweat, I hold my breath
Here, an iron door has dominated the fate on the slope
The maximum security prison castle is filled
With numbered bodies
Youth stuffed into a corner
Will randomly rolled into a mop
Sweeping to and fro
On the floor of deprivation and control
These numbered bodies
Have only one name: Prisoner

Once again, I dig out the sugared-clothes of language
Wrapped with the blood-drops of conscience, like a cold chess piece
Playing against them, my heart, as hard as a mountain walnut
And this time
The flying smell
Of a scorned angel
Is sandwiched between sadness and moved wings
Smelling the smell of your bald head
From the air that is two-storey high

If your insignificant and bent soul
Is destined to bump into the tiger’s mouth in the autumn
In the depth of the summer then
Whose fate will become crueller
And whose sadness? Whose tears
Will drop lighter, farther, and vaster?


Xiao Xiao

Poems, originally written in Chinese by Xiao Xiao and translated into English by Ouyang Yu.

Xiao Xiao, pen-name of Xiao Youjun, is a woman poet, originally from Sichuan and now based in Beijing. She began writing poetry in 1983 and has since published a number of poetry collections that she wrote and edited, including A Complete Collection of Pre-Menglong Poetry, A Complete Collection of Menglong Poetry, and A Complete Collection of Post-Menglong Poetry, all edited by her, in 1993. She is now executive editor of xiandai shige bao (Modern Poetry Newspaper). She is also an artist who does oil paintings. She is currently deputy editor-in-chief of a Chinese literary and cultural website: IMPACTCHINA.COM.CN and executive editor of a poetry magazine, da shige (Great Poetry).

Image from Shutterstock



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Existing comments

What superb imagery! I cannot even begin to imagine what the poems must have sounded like in the original. Poems with a socio-political message, at least those written in English by English speaking poets, usually leave me wondering why they called poems. But theses works by Xiao Xiao are works of art - even in translation.

Uncle Pat | 16 September 2014  

These are beautiful. And the translator is a genius.

Jim Jones | 17 September 2014  

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