Poetry by Black Bird

[translated poetry]

Rhapsody on Stench

Don’t stay at cheap hotels—just don’t, he said
prostitutes that knock on doors at midnight, just like
disposable containers containing disposable sex
disposable toilet paper and paper cups, rusty faucets
manageresses who apply too much fake perfume
even the artificial lighting and white bed sheets
all have stench
for forty years I have not felt desire, not gone near a woman, he said

Don’t visit the wet markets—just don’t, he said
fish dead with their eyes still open, bodies preserved in ice
fly traps sticky with the death of flies, dirty coins
the intestines and blood of livestock, wrong scale measurements
produce tainted with fertilizer and pesticides, poisonous rice
even the peddler’s voice and canned radishes
all have stench
for forty years I haven’t eaten meat, haven’t taken a life, he said

Don’t go to the hospital—just don’t, he said
strange doctors and equipment, artificial needles, tubes, and blood
the piercing cries of infants, garish medicine bottles
life bound in bandages, people pieced together with cloth
vacant expressions, corpses being sent to the morgue
dangerously pregnant women, faked illnesses
even the medical records
all have stench
for forty years I haven’t taken medicine, haven’t gotten sick, he said

Don’t take the train—just don’t, he said
thieves who pocket things on the sly, restless sleep
the stuffy smell of feet and sweat, strange travellers from other provinces
suspicious suitcases and packages
artificial fruit, ramen and canned beverages
the constant jabber of dialects, dirty jokes and poker games
even the train tickets
all have stench
for forty years I haven’t travelled, haven’t gone outside, he said

Don’t bother about politics—just don’t, he said
shred the national paper, smash the radio and TV set
if you see a government building, turn your head, walk away
don’t hate the country anymore, despite getting in trouble, beaten up
all the fake public documents, due process, and rights that never see the light of day
politics all over the world have stench, he said
even after forty years, as soon as he hears talk of politics, he goes mad

A man who fears stench, sleeping beside a cat until his final years
even the cat loathes the stench, loathes the smell of fish and human flesh
he is my strange neighbour without children
he was locked up by the government during the Cultural Revolution
afterwards his wife left and his family fell apart
afterwards he didn’t remarry, he feared politics and stench
“All over the world is stench. Where can I go?
I will just die in the motherland,” he said, just before his death

 


Rhapsody on a Man Standing in the Shadows Hammering a Nail

Like a hydrogen balloon filled to bursting with poisonous gas
he floats dangerously here and there
through the second half of his life. With a ghostly pale face
he drags along a paper-thin shifting shadow
living in fear. The dense body of the Earth
resonates with the sound of his beating hammer
Will he cover the whole Earth with man-made nails?
The man-made nails that densely pack
walls plastered with nauseating slogans, rust in the rain
A man who spent most of his life covered in paint
did not get a kick out of painting slogans
and long ago ran off to heaven, carrying his man-made paint
Yet the man with the hammer continues to hide on Earth
stubbornly hammering his nails. His left hand that holds the nails
bleeds year-round, the rotten flesh attracting maggots and flies
Late in the night, his middle-aged body
starts from a nightmare with a scream, his head bathed in sweat
and he lies paralyzed in a bed covered in blood
soberly waiting the rooster’s crow.
Day and night his bird claw-like right hand firmly holds
an angry hammer. His four middle-aged pockets
are always full of rust-spotted man-made nails
He was my fifth-grade primary school teacher, a language teacher
He was recognized by the meatpacking village for being a good person
so good that even his shadow was the honest and benevolent kind
But in autumn 1993, he suddenly went bad
No one in the whole village dared to believe
he had used five terrifyingly long rivets
with wrath and hate
to nail his unfaithful wife to an iron bedframe
The jaws of the people dropped in fright and stayed that way
as if their mouths had been stuffed with invisible megaphones
and in the choking dust there was the smell of piss.
After this, the whole village called him a demon and kept their distance
After this, he desired only the shadows, man-made walls and nails
After this, he desired only, with his deep and hateful wrath
to hammer man-made rust-spotted nails
into the flesh of walls. After this, he beat his drum
alone in the world. Only from a distance did we dare
watch him crazily beating his drum
watch the man-made nails in the world become less and less
If he continues, sooner or later the Earth will be hammered full of nails
If he continues, all the man-made nails
will soon be hammered up by him.
We fear, when the world runs out of man-made nails
will he then, with his deep and hateful wrath
hammer himself into the earth? Like one
surplus man-made nail, in the middle of an epoch
that collects rust
speck by speck

 


Rhapsody on Young Death

Stars like cookies
In the heavens sparkle sweetly scented
When night arrives
The whole Milky Way is surging with scented stars
Children who died young
In the heavens hungrily scramble after them
Sometimes they will discover
One cookie as large as the moon
And fight over it, bruising each other and shedding blood
On Earth, balconies in the dark night
Become covered with delicate drops of fresh blood and tears
At that moment
Unaware of the things outside the window
In our nightmares, we panic and try to flee
Early morning we wake with a start
Brilliant rays of morning light drape the sky
And the fresh blood and tears of those children
That covered the balconies on Earth
God has long ago
Quietly quietly quietly wiped clean
Leaving not a speck

 


Rhapsody on Smearing Paint

A woman with autism lives in the seclusion of her home
alone in a strange human-flavoured world
She has a compulsion for painting, there is no relief for her plight, no medical cure
Carrying a bucket of sombre black paint, 89.9 percent composed of night sky, she
grasps the childhood in a toy doll, takes it out, covers it in paint
then puts it back, then paints the doll black
grasps the illness in the medicine bottle, takes it out, covers it in paint
then puts it back, then paints the bottle black
grasps the music in the speaker, takes it out, covers it in paint
then puts it back, then paints the speaker black
grasps the speed in the bicycle, takes it out, covers it in paint
then puts it back, then paints the bicycle black
grasps the youth in the facial mask, takes it out, covers it in paint
then puts it back, then paints the facial mask black
grasps the friendship within the photo album, takes it out, covers it in paint
then puts it back, then paints the photo album black
grasps the chastity in the dress, takes it out, covers it in paint
then puts it back, then paints the cloth black
grasps the lie in the rose, takes it out, covers it in paint
then puts it back, then paints the petals black
grasps the expression in the mirror, takes it out, covers it in paint
then puts it back, then paints the mirror black
grasps the glow in the lightbulb, takes it out, covers it in paint
then puts it back, then paints the glass bulb black
grasps the sitcom in the TV set, takes it out, covers it in paint
then puts it back, then paints the TV screen black
grasps the time in the wall clock, takes it out, covers it in paint
then puts it back, then paints the clock’s frame black
grasps the content of the magazine, takes it out, covers it in paint
then puts it back, then paints the papers black
grasps the sleep in the bed, takes it out, covers it in paint
then puts it back, then paints the mattress black
grasps the secret within the chest, takes it out, covers it in paint
then puts it back, then paints the keyhole black
grasps the summertime in the electric fan, takes it out, covers it in paint
then puts it back, then paints the electric fan black
grasps all her happiness anger sorrow and joy, takes them out, covers them in paint
then puts them back, then paints herself black
She lets go of the paintbrush and plastic container and crouches down in the corner of the room
like a hedgehog whose spirit has been dealt a terrible blow
Her body shrinks with fatigue, her face is distorted with bitter tears and a runny nose
Her cries are like the wail of a sudden air raid alarm
that startles awake however so many countries, and causes them to lose
a dozen or so nights of sleep

 


Rhapsody on Hitmen

The year’s end is near. At this time
the buzz of a crackdown is constant, so constant that even the flies
don’t feel free to fly around and breathe
Bailiffs sent out by the country constantly search the country
carpet bombing day and night
like ten million dogs, searching an expansive carpet
Even a thread-like crack
is repeatedly sniffed dozens of times
Ten million sensitive sniffing noses
one after another get chronic hypertrophic rhinitis
The country has no choice but to stuff into the pocket of every bailiff
a bottle of the finest nasal spray for emergency purposes
After X number of searches, day and night, the bailiffs’ penises
are so worn out they droop like used condoms
The bailiffs return home muddle-headed and fall asleep in their clothes
trousers and leather shoes covered in dirt and piss
Their forsaken wives, who burn with desire
yet lack the guts to have an affair
are forced to hide their faces and go to the sex shop
They take home Japanese models of gel penises
then hide themselves in the toilet, masturbating with one hand over their mouths
The year’s end is near, outside the country’s sex shops
day and night, you can always find a bustling
long long long procession of hidden faces
And as soon as the hitmen see that
long long long procession of hidden faces
They stop taking on work, conceal their pistols and ammo
alter their appearance, get rid of their camouflage
Right hands holding bribes, left hands holding
the flirtatious waists of American girls
they travel in a private Apollo spaceship, soaring straight to the moon
On top of the moon, they smoke the finest
marijuana from Cambodia, and admire the man-made landscape on Earth
The hitmen watch the country’s bailiffs
leap until their leather shoes break, ruin their noses from sniffing
yet the bailiffs still end up empty-handed
Bored senseless, the bailiffs
one by one raise Browning 92 rifles
aim them at the heads of mosquitoes, and start to play
a cruel and inhuman game of exploding heads

 


Rhapsody on the Person Racing a Great Rain

Once summer arrives, the sky in the meatpacking village
looks like it has suffered the cruel blows of a man. Swollen dark clouds
look like skin covered with bruises
like a sanitary napkin soaked in menstrual blood
From time to time, the clouds will float
queasily at the top of our heads
Once summer arrives, we multitask
watching the sky above our heads while harvesting
Once a black cloud appears, we desperately run
in the direction of the commune’s area for drying corn
There, one year’s worth of food is laid out to dry
We rush to bag it all up, and cover it well
before the great rainfall splashes down
Once summer arrives, it is as if we
repeatedly become the butt of God’s practical jokes
One joke was targeted at a woman, everyone in her family
had already died and left her behind
She was already quite old. Last year her legs
could still muster the speed of an old hen
Yet this year, no matter how much she tried
she could only run as fast as a tortoise
Yet she ran everywhere she went, the whole time giving the sky a tongue-lashing
The people in the sky became incensed at her
One after another they held up big basins of cheap water
and as if taking revenge, splashed it at her
Some fucking idiots even lost all sense of reason
and in her direction
spat wrathful spit

 


Rhapsody on Magpies

My country will never have magpies again
The last one died from a man-made epidemic
in 2648
Its body is hung in the national bird museum, where people pay homage
Its chirp has been recorded and duplicated an unlimited number of times
and used to soothe lonesome souls in the final years of their lives
From the faraway corners of the nation, there are no more happy tidings
For several years, there has been not a single correspondence
from the people who care about me, nor from those I care about
All day I sit in a German wheelchair waiting death
On the rooftop of the building, in the winter of 3121
a smart-machine navy-blue magpie
given for free to the elderly by the nation
plays the recorded bird song on repeat
Far off, the man-made scenery of the nation
vanishes into smoggy haze
The airplane of the environmental protection agency is busy sterilizing the air
Above the electronic clouds, there are broadcasts
ads for extra strength medicine to calm the soul
My tree will never again be graced with birds
For several years, the stark bald branches have not seen a single leaf
The whole day, there is no sunlight on my balcony
The cured meat hanging on the window’s iron bars
crawls with maggots

 

腥的狂想曲

不住小旅馆。坚决不住。他说
那些半夜敲门的妓女,仿佛张开的
一次性器皿,盛装着一次性的性
一次性的卫生纸和纸杯。生锈的水笼头
喷了过多人造香水的旅馆老板娘
连人造的灯光和白床单里的睡眠,都是腥的
我已四十年不近色不思欲了。他说

不逛菜市场。坚决不逛。他说
死不瞑目的鱼,冰的冷里藏着它的肉体
苍蝇纸上,粘着苍蝇的死。脏的货币
畜生的內脏和血。缺斤少两的无良的称
人造化肥和农药培育的蔬菜。毒大米
连商贩的语气和防腐剂里的萝卜,都是腥的
我已四十年不杀生不吃肉了。他说

不上医院。坚决不上。他说
古怪的医生和器械。人造的针筒和人血
尖锐的婴儿哭声。色彩缤纷的药
苟活在绑带里,像衣服那样缝接而成的人
没有表情的脸。推往太平间的尸体
危险的孕妇。夸大的病。连病历都是腥的
我已四十年不生病不吃药了。他说

不坐火车。坚决不坐。他说
随时顺手牵羊的小偷的手。不安的唾眠
窒息的脚气和狐臭。可疑的外省旅客
可疑的行李箱和包裹。罐装的人造饮料
水果和方便面。滔滔不绝于耳的方言
黃色笑话和扑克牌。连火车票,都是腥的
我已四十年不出门不远游了。他说

不关心政冶。坚决不关心。他说
撕毁国家的报纸。砸掉收音机和电视机
看见政府机构,别过脸去,绕道而行
不再仇恨国家。虽然曾遭它暴打
虚伪的公开的公文。见不得光的手段和权
全世界的政治都是腥的。他说
四十年了,一闻到政治,他就抓狂

一条害怕腥的人,与猫共眠至终老
连喂养的猫,也厌恶腥,厌恶人和鱼肉
他是我的一条古怪的邻居。无后代
文革时曾遭国家关押。从此家破妻散
从此不再娶。从此害怕政治和腥
全世界都是腥的。我能躲到哪里去
我就死在祖国里。临死前他说

 


站在墙的阴影里钉钉子的人狂想曲

就像一只毒气充沛的人造氢气球
在地球里,他危险地飘飘忽忽,飘飘忽忽
下半辈子,他惨白着落魄的人脸
拖着单薄如纸的变异影子
苟活于恐惧中。肉体密密麻麻的地球里
昼夜响彻着他的敲打声
他要将人造的钉子钉满整个地球吗
那些粉刷着肉麻的教育标语的墙
密密麻麻的人造钉子,在雨水中生着锈
那条满身油漆,写了大半辈子标语的家伙
觉得在地球里写得不过瘾
早已提着鲸鱼牌的人造油漆
奔天堂写去了。唯独他依然躲在地球里
顽固地敲打着。拿钉子的左手,常年流着血
伤口的肉,常年腐烂着,招蛆引蝇
中年的身体,常常在鸦雀无声的下半夜
从黑色的噩梦中,尖叫着惊醒过来
满头冷汗的瘫坐于沾血的床,清醒地等待鸡鸣
鸟爪一样的右手,昼夜紧握着
愤怒的羊角锤子。四个中年的口袋
昼夜装满了锈迹斑斑的人造钉子
他是我小学五年级的班主任
教授语文。肉镇公认的一条好人
好得连影子,都是善良牌的
可在一九九三年的秋季,突然坏掉了
整个肉镇,没有一条人敢相信
他竟然使用了五根长得吓人的人造铆钉
将他的贱货女人,狠狠狠狠地
钉死在一张铁制的床上了
整个肉镇的嘴,吓得久久不见合上
仿佛塞进了一只隐形的扩阴器
在窒息的灰尘中,倒吸着屎味的空气
整个肉镇,从此视他为恶魔,远而避之
从此,他只热爱阴影、人造的墙和钉子
从此,他只热爱,将锈迹斑斑的人造钉子
狠狠狠狠深深深深地钉入到
墙的肉里去。从此,他独自在地球里
噼噼啪啪地敲打着。我们只敢站在远处
恐惧地看着他,疯狂的敲打
看着地球里的人造钉子,越来越少
长此以往,整个地球,早晚会被钉满钉子的
长此以往,地球里的人造钉子
早晚会被他,钉得一根也不剩的
我们担心着,那时的地球
再也没有人造的钉子了,他会不会
将自己也狠狠狠狠深深深深地
钉入到地球的深处去?就像一根
锋利的人造钉子,在时光中
一微米一微米的
锈蚀掉

 


夭折狂想曲

饼干似的星星
在天上闪闪发香
一到夜晚
整条银河就星香涌动
夭折的孩子们
就会在天上饥饿地哄抢之
有时他们发现了
一只月亮大饼
就会哄抢得头破血流
人间的深夜阳台
就会滴满幼嫩的鲜血和泪
那时的我们
正于噩梦中落慌而逃
浑然不觉窗外物
待到早晨我们惊醒过来
光芒早已挂满了天空
人间的阳台之上
孩子们的鲜血和泪
早已被上帝
悄悄悄悄悄悄地抹掉了
了无痕迹

 


涂抹狂想曲

一条深居简出的雌性孤独症患者
她独自在人味古怪的地球里
痴迷于涂抹,不能自拔,无药可救
她提着一桶悲伤成分高达89.9%的夜色
将玩偶里的童年,拿出来,涂抹一遍
然后放回去,然后涂黑玩偶
将药瓶里的病,拿出来,涂抹一遍
然后放回去,然后涂黑药瓶
将音箱里的音乐,拿出来,涂抹一遍
然后放回去,然后涂黑音箱
将单车里的速度,拿出来,涂抹一遍
然后放回去,然后涂黑单车
将面膜里的青春,拿出来,涂抹一遍
然后放回去,然后涂黑面膜
将相册里的友谊,拿出来,涂抹一遍
然后放回去,然后涂黑相册
将裙子里的贞操,拿出来,涂抹一遍
然后放回去,然后涂黑布匹
将玫瑰里的谎言,拿出来,涂抹一遍
然后放回去,然后涂黑花瓣
将镜子里的表情,拿出来,涂抹一遍
然后放回去,然后涂黑镜面
将灯泡里的光,拿出来,涂抹一遍
然后放回去,然后涂黑玻璃壳
将电视里的节目,拿出来,涂抹一遍
然后放回去,然后涂黑荧屏
将挂钟里的时间,拿出来,涂抹一遍
然后放回去,然后涂黑钟框
将杂志里的内容,拿出来,涂抹一遍
然后放回去,然后涂黑纸张
将床上的睡眠,拿出来,涂抹一遍
然后放回去,然后涂黑床
将箱子里的秘密拿出来,涂抹一遍
然后放回去,然后涂黑锁孔
将风扇里的夏季,拿出来,涂抹一遍
然后放回去,然后涂黑风扇
将喜怒哀乐,统统拿出来,涂抹一遍
然后放回去,然后涂黑自己
她放下塑料桶和扫刷,卧于墙角
就像灵魂遭受了重创的刺猬
肉体倦缩,嘴脸扭曲地流涕痛哭
她的哭,就像突然响起的空袭警报
吓得好几个国家,丢掉了
十几夜的睡眠

 


杀手狂想曲

年关临近。风声
总是很紧,紧得连苍蝇
也无法自由地飞行和呼吸
国家派出的捕快,总是地毯式地
昼夜将国家搜查
就像千万条狗,搜查一张宽阔的地毯
连一条线似的裂缝
也要来来回回地嗅上几十遍
嗅得千万只敏感的鼻子
纷纷患上了慢性肥厚性鼻炎
国家只好往每条捕快的裤袋里
都塞进了一瓶优鼻喷剂,以备不时之需
N个昼夜的搜查,捕快们的鸡巴
早已累得如同疲软的避孕套了
回家便和衣蒙头昏睡
裤管和皮鞋上,沾满了恶臭的泥巴和屎
被冷落的妻子,欲火焚身
却又没胆出轨
只好蒙面到性爱用品商店去
购回仿真的日本硅胶鸡巴
独躲于厕所内,掩嘴自慰
年关临近,国家的性爱用品商店外
总是昼夜涌动着
长长长长长长的蒙面队伍
杀手们一见到
那长长长长长长的蒙面队伍
便不再接活了,藏好了手枪和子弹
用易容术,卸掉了伪装
右手提着脏款,左手搂着
一条美国骚腰,光明正大地
乘坐私人阿波罗号飞船,奔月去了
月亮之上,他们抽着高级的
柬埔寨大麻,赏着地球的人造风景
任由国家的捕快,在地球里
蹿烂皮鞋,嗅坏鼻子
依然一无所获
无聊至极,捕快们
纷纷举起了勃朗宁92式手枪
瞄准蚊子的脑袋,玩起了
惨无人道的爆头游戏

 


与大雨赛跑的人狂想曲

一到夏季,肉镇的天空
就像遭人暴打过。浮肿的乌云
仿佛充满了淤伤的皮肤
又像经血渗透的女性卫生棉
时不时的,便恶心地
漂浮在我们的头顶
一到夏季,我们就得一心二用
埋头收割之时,还得留心头顶的天空
一看见乌云,就得拼命地奔跑
朝着公共晒谷场的方向
那里,正摊晒着我们一年的粮食
我们必须要赶在大雨倒泼下来之前
将它们装袋,并覆盖好
一到夏季,我们就仿佛
反复置身于上帝的一场场恶作剧中
其中有个角色,她的家族
只死剩下她一条了
她的年事,又已高。她的腿
前年还奔跑得出一只老母鸡的速度
今年,再怎么用力
也只能奔跑得出一只老乌龟的速度了
于是她一路奔跑,一路将天空臭骂了起来
于是满天空的人,全都给她惹怒了
纷纷捧起了一大盆廉价的雨水
报复似的,泼向了她
一些失去了理性的偏激的傻逼
甚至朝她,吐下了
愤怒的口水

 


喜鹊狂想曲

我的国家,再也没有喜鹊了
最后的一只,病故于2648年的
一场人为的瘟疫
它的遗容,被吊挂在
国家的鸟类博物馆里,供人凭吊
它的鸣叫,被国家无限次地刻录和复制
用以抚慰孤寂的晚年心灵
国家的远方,再也没有喜讯传过来了
喜欢我的人和我喜欢的人
已多年,音讯全无
在3121年的冬季顶楼天台上
我终日瘫坐在一辆德国籍的轮椅里等死
一只藏青色的国家免费发放的
安老智能机械喜鹊
终日反复地欢唱着刻录的虚拟鸟鸣
远处,国家的人造风景
终日隐没于雾霾中
环保局的飞机,终日忙于给空气消毒
电子云层上,终日播放着
特效的安魂药广告
我的树,再也没有鸟雀光临了
光秃秃的树枝,已多年不见一片树叶
我的阳台,终日不见阳光
吊挂在防盗网上的腊肉
爬满了蛆虫

 

Translator’s Statement:

I first came in contact with poetry by Black Bird (乌鸟鸟) in the documentary Iron Moon (2015) on migrant-worker poets in China. Black Bird was one of the five migrant-worker poets showcased in this powerful documentary. For almost ten years, Black Bird worked as a forklift driver at a factory in Guangdong province, and he currently works at a stall in a food market in Guangzhou. For this reason, his poetry is sometimes viewed in terms of his social status and labelled by literature critics in China as dagong wenxue, “migrant worker literature,” or diceng wenxue, “subaltern literature.” This type of literature is promoted by left-wing scholars as having the potential to stimulate a critique on the increasing socioeconomic inequality brought by China’s neoliberal turn.

However, Black Bird is very critical of his poetry being seen in terms of his social status and being labelled as “worker poetry.” Unlike other well-known migrant-worker poets such as Xu Lizhi and Zheng Xiaoqing, his poetry rarely touches on his work or the degrading nature of migrant worker labor. His poetry is better characterized by its experiments in language and form, and I believe the experimental nature and surreal imagery of his poems makes him stand out as a unique voice in contemporary Chinese poetry. Furthermore, his poetry often incorporates a sharp criticism of such social ills as political corruption and environmental pollution, something that is rare to find in mainstream poetry.

Translating Black Bird’s poetry made me reflect more deeply on the relationship between translator and author. Due to his poetry’s provocative and sometimes political subject matter, his readership in Chinese is limited beyond underground and avant-garde poetry circles. When translating these poems, then, it was important for me to attempt to capture and preserve Black Bird’s voice in the translation. Black Bird experiments with language and form, often incorporating enjambment, puns, and repetition. These elements introduce a strangeness to the text that coexists with the oftentimes provocative subject matter of his “rhapsodies.” I attempted to faithfully translate and maintain these stylistic elements and surreal imagery in the English translation.

 

Kimberly Wright is originally from Bloomington, Indiana. She attained a BA in East Asian languages and civilizations at the University of Chicago, and then an MA in East Asian languages and cultures and a certificate in literature translation at Indiana University. She now works in international education in Shanghai and pursues her interests in Chinese literature and translation on the side.

Black Bird is the penname of the poet Chen Yagui. He was born in 1980 in Huazhou, Guangdong province. After graduating from high school, he began working in a factory in 2002 and writing poetry in 2005; he has written more than fifty poems in a “rhapsody” series. His poetry has won awards in the Chengmai Experimental Poetry and 2nd Artsbj.com International Chinese Poetry competitions. His poems have been published in online journals as well as the Shanghai-based avant-garde poetry journal Piston (活塞), for which he also serves as a board member.