In those days, I still lived. I hadn’t burned out
Édouard Vuillard, Woman by the Window, 1898.

Language: Chinese
Region: Taiwan
Poet: Yang Xiaobin
Translator: Canaan Morse

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In those days, I still lived. I hadn’t burned out

Three poems by Yang Xiaobin, translated by Canaan Morse

Yang Xiaobin is a poet, scholar, and photographer. Born in Shanghai, China,
he earned a Ph.D. in Chinese Literature from Yale University and taught at the University of Mississippi for many years before accepting a position at the Academia Sinica in Taiwan. Widely recognized as one of the most important Chinese-language poets of the last thirty years, Yang has published several collections, including Through the Sun Belt (1994), Scenery And Plot (2008), To the Sea’s Nest (2010), and Showering Lessons (2018). His poetry invokes postmodernism as satirical power and attempts to articulate the genuine through verbal play.

Canaan Morse is a poet, literary translator, and doctoral researcher of ancient
Chinese literature and oral storytelling. His translations of two novels by Ge Fei, The Invisibility Cloak and Peach Blossom Paradise, are available via New York Review of Books, while his translations of poetry and short fiction have appeared in The Kenyon Review, The Baffler, Solstice, Southern Review, and many other journals. His own original poetry is forthcoming at The Curator and No Contact.

后事指南

我刚死的时候,他们
都怪我走得太匆忙。

其实,我也是第一次死,
忘了带钱包和钥匙。
“一会儿就回来,”
我随手关上嘴巴,熄掉
喉咙深处的阳光。

我想下次还可以死得再好看些。
至少,要记得在梦里
洗干净全身的毛刺。

后来,我有点唱不出声。
我突然想醒过来,但
他们觉得我还是死了的好,
就点了些火,庆祝我的沉默。

Guide to Funeral Arrangements

When I had just died, everyone
blamed me for leaving in a hurry.

It was actually my first time dying—
I forgot my wallet and keys.
“Be back in a minute.”
I closed my mouth behind me,
snuffed the sunlight in my throat.

I thought my next death might be more attractive,
at least I’d remember to wash
all the burrs off me in a dream.

Later, I lost my singing voice.
I wanted to wake, but
they thought it better with me dead,
and lit some fires
                     to celebrate my silence.

宾至如归指南

他抱着厨房说再见。
他一迈步,门外琴声如诉。
他登楼俯瞰客厅风景。
他挤在墙角数蜘蛛。
他爬到床头,拔不出康乃馨。
他浑身笑容贴满了纸币。
他嘀咕,美梦能否养活在鱼缸里。
他从镜子里瞥见身后的自己。
他把摇椅摆成屁股的形状。
他舔干净每一扇窗户,远望。
他散发浴缸的气味。
他躺进壶底试水温,把茶叶当睡莲。
他打开嘴,空无一人。
他为脸色挂到墙上而鼓掌。
他跳进晚餐表演辣度。
他囫囵吞下摘除的灯光。
他痛殴电视,直到车祸降临现场。
他用易拉罐托住天花板。
他说这就是视死如归。

Guide to Making Guests Feel At Home

He hugs his kitchen and says goodbye.
He takes one step: stringed music outside whispers sorrow.
He climbs a tower to regard the landscape of the living room.
He squeezes into a corner and counts spiders.
He crawls to the head of the bed, but pulls out no carnations.
He is all smiles and pasted over with banknotes.
He mutters: can good dreams be fostered in a fish tank.
In the mirror he glimpses the self behind him.
He arranges rocking chairs in the shape of a rear end.
He licks every window clean, looks into the distance.
He gives off the smell of a bathtub.
He lies in the teapot to test the water, makes tea leaves into water lilies.
He opens up his mouth: not a soul inside.
He applauds the hanging of his face upon the wall.
He jumps into dinner to perform spiciness.
He swallows excised lamplight in one gulp.
He bludgeons the TV, until a car accident arrives on scene.
He supports the ceiling with a pop-top.
He says: This is welcoming death as a friend.

未来追忆指南

那时候,我还活着,也还没
烧掉滚滚浓烟的胡须,
我自比狮子,走在钢索上。

直到有一天,我从梦中坠下,
风吹远了我的双耳——
谁都看成是蝴蝶扑飞,
幸运的是,那不是死后的爱。

比乌云更重的我,果然
飘不起来,也抓不住
风的任何一对翅膀。

那时候,雨下个不停,
我还年轻,山上树也都还绿着,
我以为我真的很有力气,
但我举不起曾经的时间。

Guide to Recollecting the Future

In those days, I still lived. I hadn’t burned out
the black, rolling smoke of my beard.
I styled myself a lion, walking a steel wire.

Until one day, I dropped out of my dream,
And the wind blew off my two ears—
Everybody thought they were a flapping butterfly
Luckily, that wasn’t love after death.

Heavier than storm clouds, I really
Couldn’t float, nor could I catch a single pair
of the wind’s wings.

In those days, it just kept raining.
I was still young, the trees on the mountain still green;
I really thought I was very strong,
Yet I couldn’t lift time that had once been.