Three Poems by Zhu Zhu

Translated from the Chinese by Dong Li.




madrid, september


days are placid, like an olive grove
spread upon the slopes, not
too many high rises, not too much dust
or too many nouveau-riche neighbors;
shop doors sluggish, ajar in deep alleys,
guitar notes gallantly accompany a lengthy lunch.
the paean to an expedition lies flat on the book shelf,
revolution already over, the king remains,
along rooflines are rows of new hero statues.
bloodthirsty impulse oxidizes and turns
into explosive cheers for weekend bullfights and soccer;
kisses, in the dry air under a blue sky
are flung about like sparks, settling slowly
on soft, spongy lawns into flowers.



waiting long under a shady clump at the railway station,
out of the blue i feel tired of traveling and want to stay,
want to turn on a lamp with a green shade
in a small apartment, hang a shirt to dry
on the balcony, let the bipolar genes evaporate;
all roads travelled turn into a milky trail of smoke
of a plane in sky’s azure vault;
kindness, finally gathers drop by drop,
and exchanges for a modicum of dignity in the crowd…
let things past cross the atlantic to come find me,
i love the beach during ebb-tide more than being on the scene.
though blaming oneself for desertion, though chargrinned
like a young girl married to a geezer, yet to re-
turn, is to exile.



on reading miguel street

a tender, bitter small book,
between the lines i could wander
back to the street where i lived as a youth
even the characters are similar,
elias lived next door then,
errol was my deskmate, and as for
blake wordsworth, this you
cannot imagine, our middle school poli-sci teacher,
who wrote kafkaesque noir novellas,
and published under a pen-name, tried to persuade me,
“you have your life ahead, first find a way to leave here.”
every character seems to
find its archetype on this street,
they are long forgotten by me,
reunion happens in other people’ books,
happens in translation, happens in a foreign land.
literature essays to exhaust all travels, yet
in all the routes i develop
my self-exile, which is far from enough,
and i need to return, again and again—
once on a spring or summer afternoon,
when a gust of wind blew the whole street’s curtains,
i saw, of this life, all the brilliance.


san servolo nocturne

june is a forever inflamed wound,
even in venice, i can still
smell the stinking odor of violence
tagging along with the sea wind; silent for too long
in the forbidden grounds of memory, we become
the animal heads that bite at bronze knobs on the door of self-incarceration—

here, curving azure waves
again and again rush on the shoals of our hearts
and rust on the tongue; on the other shore, the armory
quietly displays artworks, the gondolas
like swings freighted with honey in a dream,
from day rocking toward night, from night toward day.

piazza san marco pours songs into cups
from a water jar pleasant to the ears, after night deepens
there are still small pubs like pearls that roll
from the folds of a siren’s dress luring tourists to retrieve them…
water’s cane and light’s ribbon weave a cradle of a city,
swinging, humming, melting the longing for home.

lost in the deep alleys i smell a self that is unfaithful,
which aims to shelter itself behind some window…
when the volcano falls silent and the air no longer soars,
what more than a flower plant on the balcony, an armchair in the living room,
and a buon fresco of wavy light on the ceiling,
could we claim as our home?

tell me, after a great blow
can the corrugated heart unfold to sail?
why am i drunk on the mono-chrome of sea and sky,
while my eyes still brim with unfinished crying?
pillowed on sea’s laminations, the cathedral dome
like a candelabra keeps vigil with me until dawn.



Zhu Zhu was born in Yangzhou, P.R. China. He is a poet, critic, and curator of art exhibition,s and has published numerous volumes of poetry and prose, such as Drive to Another Planet, Salt on Wilted Grass, The Trunk, Stories, Vertigo, and Grey Carnival—Chinese Contemporary Art since 2000. Zhu’s honors include Liu Li’an and Anne Kao national poetry prizes, the French International Poetry Val-de-Marne Fellowship, The Rotterdam International Poetry Fellowship, Chinese Contemporary Art Award for Critics, and Henry Luce Foundation Chinese Poetry Fellowship at the Vermont Studio Center.

Dong Li was born and raised in P.R. China. His honors include fellowships from German Chancellery-Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Akademie Schloss Solitude, PEN/Heim Translation Fund, Yaddo and elsewhere. He has poems in Kenyon Review, Conjunctions, Cincinnati Review and others. His work has been translated into German and appeared in manuskripte and will appear in Neue Rundschau. His translations have appeared or will appear in Asia Literary Review, Asymptote, Brooklyn Rail, Circumference, The Literary Review, North American Review, Two Lines, World Literature Today and many other journals. His book-length translation of the Chinese poet Zhu Zhu The Wild Great Wall will be published by Phoneme Media in late 2017.

Dong Li has all the English rights and can also grant rights to reprint the originals.



Published on June 5, 2017.


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