Li Wan, born in 1991 in Wuhan, is a Masters student of Chinese Literature at PKU. Her work has appeared in Poetry Periodical, Poetry Forest, Enclave, ShanghaiLiterature, Essay, and is included in Poetry Xuancui. She is the winner of the Weiming Poetry Prize.
She was the featured poet at the August 31 edition of Spittoon Poetry Night.
Click below to listen to her read her poem “Zero Degrees” in Chinese and English (translation by Stephen Nashef).
We see off a few dead,
yet the wind delivers us too many useless things.
Estranged friends and disease emerge from unknown text messages
to inquire about yesterday. It was summer, water’s vision
hadn’t yet dimmed and we had just mounted the shore,
our tobacco turned moist, to rescue a scrutinised friendship.
And now you flick through an incomplete and out-of-date paper,
looking as though you’ve shed a few forgotten griefs,
you settle deep into your coat and with the flick of a button begin to slowly release
the evening’s 7pm warmth.
A disarray of bicycles, like thoughts deprived of a master,
await your grey recognition.
Think of him, them, also history’s stutter.
The wind pretends not to notice our limits,
up there where dead leaves gather, and pride.
Many years from now, the evening of this city
will still seem like a text, a considered translation of madness…
You feel it is time to close the curtains, to vanish a bit early.
Short-lived truth overflows from the pasteurised milk,
but it’s so you can continue to write
each healthy word, this lightest of felonies
that has winter trembling. It is at this time, outside the window, the rays of light begin
screaming off soiled chunks of ice, as if looking for a way to leave.
~ OTHER POEMS ~
April, he’s up early, the evening paper wet through with vegetables.
Beneath the walkway the stink of flesh hangs in the air.
He’s at pains to avoid it, but this scent
follows him like a shadow till noon.
He eats rice noodles. The sour and spice make him drip with sweat
like twenty-five years earlier, sixteen years old, in the hot air
he faces the crowds and starts to breakdance
at the gate to the square that will soon disappear.
Brilliant spring: a translucent prison like leftover soup
in its takeaway box, reflecting the brown of life.
Sunlight pushes through. Sunlight is the dead invisible to men,
the gods invisible to women.
The sun has fixed its sights on the street from the west.
In its trajectory the crowds kiss, doze, stand guard at their dreamworlds.
He walks into them, he is the centreline of his memory, dividing
the past and the future: two quick-shifting prisons.
One of those time-flowing-backwards kinds of afternoons.
I’m sat once again at the side of your bed, tapping the half-empty teacup.
The blood-red skeletal remains of sunlight are brittle and gaunt.
Across the road everywhere is brilliant windows sparkling light,
millions of doors in the heights of buildings swivelling open and shut.
You don’t want to talk of days past, there’s no way they can
satisfy that huge hard and glass stomach.
Not like playing the piano. Dust settles with tact, as if to expose
a few old lies. Now the sounds quicken the pulse.
You say you want to give up coffee, that at school everyday
it makes your sleeplessness a dirty dream,
it mingles with your room-mates slipping out
and their rich Arab boyfriends.
Unspeaking, we lie down, we wait for the moon
to pass over, the pale face of a man.
You turn your back to me. You must also be thinking to sixteen years old
– us, sixteen years old, having just washed, able to smell
on our bodies the scent of lovers to come, like a
freshly opened new collection of poems –
The wall-clock is getting wetter and wetter.
This whole room is utterly a woman.
Some fragile utensils have persisted for twenty odd years.
From the other side of the wall, your mother starts coughing again.
We must lightly pinch off our nightmares, like teeth from a comb,
we mustn’t wake her. Our pain is younger than hers
by a full thirty years.
Day, gradually widening,
a huge and sopping bedsheet,
the world’s multiplicity in quiet marriage, turning above.
The butterflies and sunlight are in coitus.
Then the ever-spinning disc
stutters, as though caught by the throat.
Two legs, blind as a baby,
stumble right into that trite nymph
Echo’s hysterical old footprints.
While the sweet Narcissus sows its seed,
that incurable virus, onto the lips of sweethearts.
— O the purity of its gold and our fix.
And the prince of fire, his obstinate solitary course,
the lines of poetry whose creator’s long missing.
Life’s dirt, it seems, spring drapes
over the necks of its peach trees.
About the Translator:
Stephen Nashef, born in Glasgow and lives in Guangzhou where he translates, writes and reads. Aesthetically speaking, he has a soft spot for the abrasive.