While I was in grad school, I translated these modernist Chinese poems.

Sunday’s Key

by Ouyang Jianghe (Jin Tian, 1993 #2, 93)

In the light of Sunday morning, the key swings back and forth.
Someone who came home at midnight cannot return to his own house.
The sound of a key entering the keyhole is not so remote as the sound
of knocking on the door, an address in a dream is more reliable than this.

When I crossed the residential street, all the headlights
suddenly turned off. In the boundless starry sky above my head
there was a cyclist squeezing the brakes of a bike. Tilting,
tilting for one second. I heard a key drop to the ground.

A key chain from many years before swings in the sunlight.
I picked it up, but don’t know where the hand behind it
is hiding. All the days that came before Saturday
are locked up, I don’t know which I ought to open.

Now it is Sunday. Every single one of these rooms
has been mysteriously opened. I throw away the key.
There is no need to knock to enter any room.
In such a crowded world, the rooms are empty, deserted.


by Bei Dao (Jin Tian, 1993 #2, 100-101)

Night tends toward perfection,
I drift amid language,
dead musical instruments
are filled up with ice.

Whoever, on the crack between days,
sings, as water becomes bitter
and flames lose blood,
races like a wildcat toward the stars,
must have some kind of form:
only then is able to dream.

In the morning chill
one bird, awakened,
approaches even closer to truth
but my poems and I
sink down together.

February within a book:
a few motions and shadows.

Writing Poems by Candlelight

by Zeng Hong (Jin Tian, 1993 #2)

For one whole night, flood waters so vast as to cover Heaven
come, extinguish all the lights of the city,
send the people back to the candlelight of decades ago
or else they would contact directly a darkness
from which they cannot be saved; in the whole city
there is no water, no electricity, all one can hear is rain
in thoughts or quietly dripping in whispers.
They come from a huge dream
in the city’s air, like a fishing net that has just
been drawn up. An alarmed cry, splash and jump.

Children, in their dreams, pant
men and women pant
in an even deeper darkness, experience
the joy brought by the rich harvest, even
to the fatigue after laboring; all of this
appears so blurry, fortunate
even to the city’s lost
lamplight, like fish that have lept and struggled
in the net for a long time, ideas that no longer seek life
right until the dawn light buys them all up.


by Duo Duo (Jin Tian, 1993 #1, 142-143)

hang your likeness in a window that waits for a snowstorm
place bountiful bread in the center of a black dish
hand, extend into a place where hands don’t exist

this is silence

the snow coming down right now
yourself, gazed upon by a horse
that snow-covered bank, these are a few ideas

this is your silence

a flock of sheep quietly moving in the graveyard
a sky densely filled by a flock of crows at daybreak
a silence that has received permission
recorded on a tombstone:

pondering, this is the suspension of silence

the world outside the window, silent without words
in a white landscape, silent without words
the watch ticks, the hands don’t move
between my hand and the paper lies such a condition:

seeking something beyond the human

April Dusk

by Shu Ting
from Hua Xia Wen Zhai, April 16, 1993, selected from New Wave
Poetry Collection, Peking University Press.

in the dusk of April lingered measure after measure of green melody
reverberating in the ravines and gullies
wavering in the empty air
if your soul is overflowing with echoes
then why must you search so bitterly
if you want to sing, go ahead and sing, but please
lightly, lightly, gently

the April dusk
seems like a memory, lost and then regained
or maybe it is a date
that to this day has never been kept
or maybe it is a passionate love
forever unrequited
if you want to weep, go ahead and weep, let the tears
flow, flow, silently

Wayback to some early songs

The Wayback Machine has allowed me to recover these songs, which I wrote while in grad school. Not sure I could reconstruct the melody of the second one.

Theoretical Blues

Ain’t got a paradigm
only a nickel to my name
Ain’t got a paradigm
only a nickel to my name
Well, since my baby left me
Ooh, Lawd, it’s a crying shame.

My baby metanarrative
told him stories all Thursday night.
By Friday he’d gone and left me.
You know it just ain’t right.

Now I got no signifier
I got no signified
Got no significant other
Lawd, please give me a sign.


I tried dialectic
I tried dial right
Put all my money in the phone
but no dialog with my baby tonight.

He works in deconstruction
drives a semiotic truck
And if I could, I surely would
sing the next line but it rhymes with truck.


Well, I managed to beg a nickel
and I borrowed a dime.
I called him up and said, “oh baby,
epistemology one more time.”

I said to him, “Herman baby,
I need my hermeneutic man.
Come back and complete the circle
and do it as fast as you can.”

I’ve got a new paradigm
My honey has changed his ways.
Now he’s come back home to Mama,
we’re in our post-structuralist phase.

Throwing Matches in the Ocean

Throwing matches in the ocean
killing grapes in California
he adores ya he adores ya
don’t say I didn’t warn ya!

If you want to go see movies
it may ultimately bore ya
“The piano, the piano”
don’t say I didn’t warn ya!

When the paradigm has shifted,
O, modernity we’ll mourn ya
have some chocolate consolation
and don’t say I didn’t warn ya!

New post, old poems

These are some poems I wrote a long time ago, recently excavated from the late 1990’s. Some are older than that.

The Necessity of Ice

A December so warm
the cherry trees let down their hair
as women do at the end of the day.
Trees release sap to flow through limbs
like blood through kneaded muscle.
They break into bloom, tentatively,
a breath held in for an extra beat,
then test the air.
Flowers dot the fingers
of an opened hand
exposed to the coming chill.

Out of their time,
blossoms in the snow
wither as they begin,
open their essence
to the necessity of ice,
cold fragrance . . .
and what then?

After Giorgio di Chirico

In this city,
it is a train;
in the other,
Both voices
strum the blind night
strung from rooftop
to distant track or beach.
Both voices
drum the earth
where I press my ear,
for buffalo,
the clack of wheels on steel,
or the sanding
of shoreline.
Those rumbles
the deep-tongued crooning,
a private warning
through night’s
still air.



She breathes black silk
and condensation, clips
a crescent earring on,
then rises.


The cries of blackbirds
comb the dawn mist from her hair–
blond strands
rayed on the horizon.


She pours the light to darkness,
darkness into light
from cup to cup,
a lavender veil between
the bowl of earth,
the bowl of sky.


these dark words,
poured in a bowl cradled in two hands,
like three or four tones
ringing out in the silence,
in the empty space that is packed
around them

these dark words,
signs of life heard randomly
from a distance, just that part
of the voice that makes its way
though wood, stone, and the barriers
of flesh that distort them

these dark words,
stripped of their language, brush past
like a stranger in the marketplace,
the one you never met:
sound, just sound,
as if you’d never heard them