Zhang Er: 3 poems

  Zhang Er

  3 poems

  selected work from First Mountain

selected work from First Mountain (forthcoming from Zephyr Press)
English version by Joseph Donahue

  All Aboard

‘All Aboard,
                      All Aboard’
The moment has arrived
for ID, ticket, fated seat in life, and
feelings that stream away.
What you’ve found does not fulfill you.
No hairstyle can fashionably
tangle over your eyes.
Yet, what you see is all:
Grey cement stairs
frozen waves of
water and mud
rough, uneven, step
after step, down
‘Watch your step!’,
(repeatedly cautioned)
Grey rush of tunnels
currents twisting together.
Is there any pattern to this labyrinth
You don’t want to know.
Seven bags
to visit the relatives!
Where to stow them
(And the homesickness
untouched for sixty years?)

Mom, Dad, my older brother and me,

(Grandpa, Grandma are both,
admittedly, ash),

all under the same roof again,
(the first time for how many years?)
So close now, knee knocks knee.
A radiator clouds the train’s window.
I’m unable to look at you.

The darkness is a silent
platform where no one is left
slowly strolling past,
snug in warm clothes, with
a dog in snow among the trees.

  Hou Ma Station Sketch

Two minutes of stillness
Old man, old woman, with
trunks, backpacks, and

once fashionable luggage.

dragging one decade, then another—

At the platform, the train exhales,
leaving behind the bags left and right

A red and green dazzle of

shining things

But let’s take our picture
here: the rusted-through train track

a nice post-modern effect—

deterioration, bags or burdens
it happens once in a lifetime

even if you live for another thirty years.

You call out
from a temporary distance
‘Quick, switch to the 8:45 train!”

Opportunity is in no rush.
It watches us run, working hard
to fulfill what is required of us at the moment:

the upcoming
underground tunnel,
other platforms to manage.

The traffic light waves us on,
the announcer even seems excited
if not a bit irritated.

‘Why bother to run
The rain will still be
where you’re going”
argues the village idiot.
Ahead of us, a field
the color of the sun.
Unknown, or unrecognized place
A red and green dazzle of

shining things

like new toys. They make

our grief more real.

Hou Ma Station,

what are these feelings

— Don’t want to play anymore
gather up your seven bags!

  Old Yard

at dusk:

long shadows,
                    undesired moods.

We follow Fifth Brother.


Thick wall, high wall, no window,

it would be better to just let go

of our embarrassing nostalgia . . .


In the photo you’re alone
corner of the wall, top of the gate,
like faint characters that are carved in stone
                          of our delicate ancestors.

Grey-blue bricks, all the way up.
A two story building
two entrances
and a double courtyard.

The light darkens.
Darkness spills from the attics.

There’s no light left to skim the pages
of your fathers well-thumbed preschool book.


A giant crop vat, under the window sill.

Yellow corn cobs on a string.

The hope. Year after year
written into plain couplets.


no solace in surveying the sprawl of this yard.


Darkened light, blinded fire.
Only one family lives here now,
                      in the side yard’s east wing,

with a name from elsewhere,
certainly not ours.

North wing, locked.
South wing, for the pigs.
West wing, where the sheep sleep.

The yard is paved with brick, and used to dry pine nuts.
The younger generations have all gone off.

They build new houses on the river bank.
You could buy this place for three thousand Yuan.
It still has the original single log beam
                      and the carved wood railing.

How much coming and going

                      has polished the stairs.

Autumn grasses on the tile roof.

A breeze rustles its teasing whistles.

This was our home

— wanna buy it

A yard that’s a hundred years old
can’t handle raining grief

Dirt on shoe heels.

The smear of the memory of here.

You pretend your seriousness is just pretend,
as if only for the moment of
this photograph.

Sweetheart, have you forgotten
How to speak of love
in your mother tongue

Come, let me kiss
you goodbye, baby.

Please? Before
you go, sweet


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