by Xi Chuan
Green colors and blue colors flow together and form empty mountains. Some people are walking in them, but they’re still empty mountains, as if the people walking there have no faces, but they are still people. No one should try to recognize themselves in these figures, or try to see the real mountains and waters of this world, nor should anyone think of trying to gain casual praise from Wang Ximeng. Wang Ximeng knows these small figures, and that not one is he himself. These are not his figures, and he cannot call out a single one by name. The figures acquire the mountains and waters, just as the mountains acquire the emerald and lapis, just as the waters acquire vastness and boats, just as Emperor Huizong got Wang Ximeng at eighteen years old, not knowing that Wang would die soon after he finished this thousand miles of rivers and mountains. The mountains and waters are nameless. Wang Ximing realizes that people without names are just decorations in mountains and waters, just as flying birds know they are insignificant to men’s games. And the birds meet in the sky. Meanwhile, people walking in the mountains have their own directions to travel and their own plans. These small figures, in white, walk, sit at leisure, go fishing, trade, surrounded by green colors and blue colors, just like, today, people, in black, go to banquets, concerts, and funerals, surrounded by golden colors and more golden colors. These small figures in white have never been born and so have never died; just like Wang Ximeng’s landscape utopia, they are immune to pollution and invasion, and that is worth careful consideration. So people who are far away from social controls have no need to long for freedom, and people who haven’t been destroyed by experience aren’t concerned about forgetting. Wang Ximeng let the fishermen have infinite numbers of fishes to go fishing; he allowed limitless waters to run out from the mountains. According to him, happiness means the exact amount of blessing so that, immersed in the silence between mountains and waters, people can build bridges, waterwheels, roads, houses, and live quietly, just like the trees growing appropriately in the mountains, along the margins of water, or surrounding a village, and surrounding people. In the distance, the trees are like flowers. When they sway, it’s the time when the clear wind is rising. When the clear wind is rising, it’s time for people to sing. When people sing, it’s time for an empty mountain to become an empty mountain.
“After Wang Ximeng’s Blue and Green Horizontal Landscape Scroll, A Thousand Miles of Rivers and Mountains,” by Xi Chuan, translated by Arthur Sze, first appeared in Boston Review.
by Yang Lian
last night my poem moved to the street corner
enacted a tree waved
small white flowers that suddenly turned their faces like ghosts
screaming on tiptoe permeated the air
ankle bones sparkled like crystals
the Tang dynasty like a lantern suddenly switched on
already it’s been so many years along a red brick wall
I turned a corner it was the old country at branch tip
familiar bloodshed finds again its stand-in
throws out tons of quicksilver colors
but I am no longer scared of shriveling since a spring night
washed away at the tree stump the lingering sound of an electric saw
“Memorial to a Tree at the Street Corner,” by Yang Lian, translated by Arthur Sze, first appeared in Gulf Coast.
Xi Chuan is a leading Chinese poet, essayist, and translator. He teaches at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. In 2012, Notes from the Mosquito: Selected Poems was published by New Directions. A new collection, Bloom & Other Poems, is forthcoming from New Directions later this year.
Yang Lian is another leading Chinese poet, editor, and translator who now lives in Berlin. His many books of poetry in English include Concentric Circles (Bloodaxe, UK, 2005), Lee Valley Poems (Bloodaxe, UK, 2009) and Anniversary Snow (Shearsman, UK, 2019).
Arthur Sze has published eleven books of poetry, including The Glass Constellation: New and Collected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2021) and Sight Lines, for which he received the 2019 National Book Award for Poetry. He has also published The Silk Dragon: Translations from the Chinese (Copper Canyon Press, 2001) and edited Chinese Writers on Writing (Trinity University Press, 2010).
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