Two Poems by Zhu Zhu translated from the Chinese by Dong Li.


The Bayou of Time

A little girl’s bashfulness shimmers through her crow’s feet,
black eyeglass frame lends weight to her questioning tone:
Do you still remember me?
Such a street encounter
drags you back to a teenage summer afternoon—
an attic in a relative’s house, on the wall hung
the headshot of Garbo, clothes and books in an equal mess,
a creaking steel cot, a few springs rusted and snapped;
she came every weekend then, her naked knees
dangling by the cot’s edge as if on a swing, whispers, caresses,
walks under moonlight, until the last bus took her away—
her body was a key to open your manhood,
her back the most smooth silk that you had ever touched,
without her kiss perhaps you would have died of thirst…
now your life seems like a river past the headlands,
canals widened, bearing along silt and boats,
and the attic has been taken down, even the whole block
like the negative of an ant nest has been destroyed by exposure—
in this encounter you run into your downy self and the overwhelming
power of a visa officer: smile, listening, no approval issued…
watching the blush diffuse on her face, you even think,
not without mischief, of pneumonia tarrying in a romantic novel.


Geography Teacher

A taped old globe
spins slowly by her fingertips,
she teaches Vesuvius and Mariana Trench,
depression and tropical climate, how cold and warm fronts
merge above the Pacific, how rain and clouds form.
Yet her body teaches us another kind of geography,
that is what we really want to know—
along the opening of her V-neck sweater, we
imagine ourselves as crawling commandoes in a film,
cutting electric fences with a pair of pliers, and
nervous that the searchlight will light up any time,
until the recess bell rings like an alarm set off…
we watch her leave as if peeking through the window
at the open book of notes on her desk.
Even under her thick coat and the firm barrier of a scarf,
we still make out the swaying flesh through folds of clothing.
Fairytales can weave no more night dreams, we have grown up,
like tadpoles in a glass jar ready to swim into rivers—
under the small-town sky that resembles a broken upended boat,
she is Cape of Good Hope, telling of sunsets, U.F.O.s and jetlag.



Zhu zhu & Dong Li