Poet: Ma Yan
Translator: Stephen Nashef
Ma Yan (1979–2010) was a Chinese Muslim born in Chengdu, Sichuan province. A writer of both poetry and prose, she graduated from Peking University in 2001 with a degree in classical Chinese literature. While in university she helped to organize the first Weiming Lake Poetry Festival, an annual event that continues to this day, and in 2000 co founded the culture website, New Youth. In 2003 she returned to Chengdu. She passed away on December 28th, 2010 during a visit to Shanghai.
Stephen Nashef currently lives in Beijing where he is studying for a Ph.D in Chinese Islamic philosophy. He was awarded a Henry Luce Chinese Poetry and Translation Fellowship in 2018 and his translations of Ma Yan’s poems have appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review.
It’s stifling, even hotter at the back of the bus
where waves rise and fall. I mind my step.
A long time ago, in a past life, the depressive
took a note between her thumb and forefinger
from South China’s back pocket while no one was looking;
undercover and nearing the Great Tradition.
The conductor took the moist notes, two of them.
The possibility of One exists in the tradition,
but someone once said, Two cannot appear as One.
They stuck and clung through the sweat.
Singing workers are now passing the window,
their faces expressionless and unadorned.
The heart of the oscillator swings inside people’s bodies
caught in the heat of its sweep. No one person
is superfluous; this is the limit of the squeeze.
Under their bodies the engine is still creating new lives
when depression places a foot on the Earth’s meager crust
and a doubt that is hard to dispel erupts in the chest.
Face the torrent of words with a resolute smile
and push through the packed crowds. The heat in their bodies
is a smouldering conspiracy, dumbly stewing.
I become brusque, no longer sunk in my thoughts.
Like the ice coursing through the heart of the Great Tradition,
I melt. Now I mix into the dirt of the earth.
Eternity and a Day
Eternity and a Day
The man in bark boots
took me to the depths of the hutongs,
Little Duck Hutong, Duckling Hutong
Duck Egg Hutong—which one sounds more believable?
We are looking for thieves in Little Duck Hutong.
The bastards tricked me
and you’re going to find them.
I’m going to find them.
Every day in this city someone jumps off of a building.
My brother says he wants to slit his own throat.
He says it with a smile.
They keep jumping
out of one building and into another
riding the sleet in the wind
and when no one’s raising their head to look at the sky
I can be a bad person
but now I am not.
Now I am delicate and charming.
Everyone ought to stand before me
and look at me through the damp cold.
Bad intentions fly back and forth.
This damp cold!
It’s seeping through this blurred city.
And the man in bark boots
is pummelling away.
The bad guys are crossing the street,
heads lowered in the chill.
献给伟大的 C. Grabbe
Jokes, Irony, Mockery, and Deeper Significances
for the great C. Grabbe
What surges in my chest, what keeps gushing out,
isn’t milk, or passion either. It can’t be named.
The singular crowds, they are only them.
Unsure what to do, they roam the alleyways.
The people inside the crowds pace outside the brothels.
and weep with their heads in their hands for the passing of joy.
In the filth
I give birth to a son. I name him me.
I want to touch the halo that encircles me, I want to snap the
No dagger can pierce him. I spread my legs and grab
my son’s head, drag him out, stretch him out big.