Xue Di: Flames

FLAMES

     Why revere poetry? Because of what it reveals. Like life’s flame at the center of the spirit, each word of a poem blazes, illuminating our darkness, illuminating an ancient consciousness, oppressed hope and instincts choked by reason.
     Pure works transfix us, deliver up real life. Behold! We are dumbfounded — !
     But the other kind — depictions of sound and fury, of shallow masochism, hypocritical history and false vision — all show me a swindler spouting clever rhetoric and charming words, or a craftsman tinkering with his tools, conniving with delight. It makes me see buzzing neon, and below, those who sniff out their dinners like feral cats.
     I know my silence threatens to submerge me in such putrid tidewater. But patience will again lift me out with the palm of its hand, strip away the sewage and decayed leaves smothering my body. Still, how many aeons has this submersion retarded a country’s art? How long until it erupts, drowning us all, because we do not cry out? This is cowardice and profanity. This is complicity with deception. So I speak.
     Poets! Write the whispers of your soul. Write what Power prohibits. Write yourself: your filth, your transgressive desires, our hubris, dreams realized and dreams deferred. Poets, transcribe each breath that carried you here. Write yourself: your blood, your bones, your tattered flesh.
     These biting flames course through my sinews and cortex, in each word they burn. Let my poetry extract birth and death from my pulse, witness scarlet blood and dreams, see glorious ages of man —all to console my short, wandering role. This path, unburdening line by line, saves face before my father and mother — birth givers — and my ungiven son.
     Readers! As tides of material yearning surge, what stars wink out in our dark hearts?
     I weep. My poems grasp for others like me — if but to hold them.
     Can it be, only in memory we hear echoes of before? Can it be the only way to discover our dreams is to follow images sparkling in childhood eyes? According to vistas from our toddling days, we dream of moments not yet crossed? Can it be, all is irreversible? Only because we are growing old, all of us are growing old! Toxins saturate ‘our’ bodies. Legions of unknown diseases lie in wait, launch our spirits to war. This corporeal battle aborts poetry, distracts us from going beyond ourselves. Is it so? Animals and plants shame us, so we destroy them. And poets? They can only sing in dreams and letters, ferociously beating their chests: People! What trash!
     I fear somewhere my son’s unborn eyes chastise me.
     Enough! All I can do is reach into my soul and write it exhaustively out. Day and night I listen to its voice piercing the center of the flame. It will torment me, kill me; in my quest, exposed! It robs me of a lover and progeny — that is choosing poetry for a wife; my flesh, proof of its own rotting. As for spirit, it suffers evil’s retaliation. But with last breaths I will cry: My lines, my time, all were real, all were mine!

Translated by Alison Friedman, from the generous feature on modern Chinese poetry in  the Spring/Summer 2006 issue of Drunken Boat.

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