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Selected Poems of Chen Li
Translated by Chang Fen-ling

[6] From

The Edge of the Island


A Cup of Tea  Autumn Song   Morning Blue   •Nocturnal Fish

Floating in the Air   English Class  

A Lesson in Ventriloquy    A Weightlifting Lesson

A War Symphony   Three Poems in Search of the Composers/Singer

A Love Poem Keyed in with Wrong Words Because of Sleepiness

The Ropewalker   The Image Hunter   Furniture Music  

A Prayer of Gears   The Autumn Wind Blows   Formosa, 1661 

A Cup of Tea

And then I know
what the time for a cup of tea means.

I waited in the crowded and noisy station building
for the one who was late for the appointment
to appear on the bitterly cold winter day.
I carefully held a full cup of
hot tea,
carefully added to it sugar and milk,
stirring gently,
sipping gently.

You casually opened the slim collection
of Issa
's haiku that you had in your luggage:
A world of dew; yet
within the dewdrops-
- quarrels...
This crowded station was a dewdrop within
a dewdrop, dropped
in the tea deeper with every sip.

A cup of tea,
at first hot, turned warm, and then cold.
Things on my mind
ranged from poetry to dreams to reality.

In ancient times
in the world of Chinese serial novels or

tales of chivalry-
it would be the time for a cup of tea,
in which a swordsman drew his sword wiping out the besieging rascals,
and a hero was enraptured and enchanted before the bed of a fair lady.

But modern time has changed its speed.
Within about the time for half a cup of tea,
you drank up a cup of golden fragrant tea.
A cup of tea
going from far to near and then into nothingness.
The one for whom you had waited long finally appeared
and asked if you would like one more cup of tea.

1993.12   [ Back to Contents]

Translator's Note: The Chinese title of this poem is the name of the Japanese haiku master Issa (1763-1827), which means 'a cup of tea' or 'a single bubble in steeping tea'.




Autumn Song

When dear God uses sudden death
to test our loyalty to the world,
we are sitting on a swing woven of the tails of summer and autumn,
trying to swing over a tilting wall of experience
to borrow a brooch from the wind that blows in our faces.

But if all of a sudden our tightly-clenched hands
should loosen in the dusk,
we have to hold on to the bodies of galloping plains,
speaking out loud to the boundless distance our
colors, smells, shapes.

Like a tree signing its name with abstract existence,
we take off the clothes of leaves one after another,
take off the overweight joy, desire, thoughts,
and turn ourselves into a simple kite
to be pinned on the breasts of our beloved:

a simple but pretty insect brooch,
flying in the dark dream,
climbing in the memory devoid of tears and whispers
till, once more, we find the light of love is
as light as the light of loneliness, and the long day is but

the twin brother of the long night.

Therefore, we sit all the more willingly on a swing
interwoven of summer and autumn, and willingly mend
the tilting wall of emotion
when dear God uses sudden death
to test our loyalty to the world.

1993. 9   [ Back to Contents]



Morning Blue

Between the whiteness of the night and the darkness of the day,
you mercifully give me the morning blue,
your blue underwear, which is sought everywhere in vain,
your blue hair ribbon, which is raised with the wind.

You mercifully give me color blocks of melancholy
to cover the empty heart that stays awake the whole night;
you mercifully give me moist soul
to melt the darkness of the day that follows in no time.

You are a blue sheep
running to and fro on the border of the dream.
With blue, hairy shadow you contradict my thought,
oppress my breath,
make me long for your blue eye rims,
and look forward to your blue tongue

the blue waves that break at each swallow and spit.
You leave me on the beach at the ebb tide,
picking up your lost blue necklace,
collecting your runaway blue mammary areolas.

You make me take the remainder of your saliva as the ocean,
as the Mediterranean,
and guard the narrow strip of the blue coast
between the huge continents of day and night.

Oh, goddess of evil, master of the morning.

1994. 7   [ Back to Contents]



Nocturnal Fish

In the night I turn into a fish,
an amphibian
suddenly becoming rich and free because of having nothing.

Emptiness? Yes,
as empty as the vast space,
I swim in the night darker than your vagina
like a cosmopolitan.

Yes, the universe is my city.
Seen from any of our city swimming pools above,
Europe is but a piece of dry and shrunken pork,
and Asia a broken tea bowl by the stinking ditch.

Go fill in your sweet familial love,
fill in your pure water of ethics and morality,
fill in your bathing water which is replaced every other day.

I am an amphibian
having nothing and having nothing to fear.
I perch in the vast universe;
I perch in your daily and nightly dreams.

A bather bathed by the rain and combed by the wind.

I swim across your sky swaggeringly,
across the death and life that you can never escape.

Do you still boast of your freedom?

Come, and appreciate a fish,
appreciate a space fish that suddenly becomes rich
and free, because of your forsaking.

1994. 7   [ Back to Contents]




Floating in the Air

A spider, I imagine,
occupying a few branches
to spin out poetry
transparent stanzas interweave an empire,
a self-contained sky
baptized by rain and wind.

1994.10   [ Back to Contents]




English Class

There are five people in John's family.
His father is a doctor.
His mother is a nurse.
His brother is a senior high school student.
His sister is a junior high school student.
John is a junior high school student, too.
They have a big house.
They have a big TV.
They have a big car.
They have a big key.

Dr. Sun Yat-sen was born in November.
His birthday is a holiday.
John was born in November, too. But
his birthday is not a holiday.
Many people don
't go to work on holidays.
Students don
't go to school on holidays.
They can play computer games or sleep at home.

There are many animals in the zoo.
There are monkeys, rabbits, lions, tigers, elephants and bears in the zoo.
There are many desks and chairs in the classroom.
There are a teacher and fifty students in the classroom.
The teacher is writing on the blackboard.
The blackboard is green.
There are many beautiful flowers and birds in the park.
The flowers are red, yellow and white.
The birds are black and blue.
's father is sitting on a bench in the park.
He is looking at his dog.
His dog is running and playing.

It snows a lot in New York in winter.
It rains a lot in Taipei in summer.
Does it ever snow in Kaohsiung? (Give a brief, negative answer.)
No, never.
There will be a thundershower this afternoon.
There will be a basketball game tomorrow evening.
John and his friend Mary will go to the basketball game together.
He won
't go with his parents.
They will have a good time.

Does John like English songs?
Yes, very much.
Does John understand my Chinese?
Yes, but not much.
Does John often catch a cold in fall? (Give an affirmative answer in a complete sentence.)
Yes, John often catches a cold in fall.

1994. 1   [ Back to Contents]



A Lesson in Ventriloquy

u u u u u u u u u u u u u u u u unu
u u u u u u u u u u u u u u u u u u
( I am gentle…)
u u u u u u u u u u u u u u u u u u
u u u u u u u u u u u u u u u u u u
( I am gentle…)

o o O o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o
o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o
o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o
o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o (
and kind…)

                             * Translated by Michelle Yeh

1994.10   [ Back to Contents]



A Weightlifting Lesson          

  1. Old Stone Age                                                                         with
    Sphinx                                                                                          silk-
    Ethics                                                                                              like
    Death                                                                                           phrases
    Trash-recycling classifying system                                                 and
    Postmodernism                                                                               words
    Menses regularizing operation
    Slaughterhouse                                                                             the
    Beehive                                                                                     side
    Shadow cabinet                                                                          your
    Bulldozer                                                                                      ear
    Ontology                                                                                         fos-
    Centimeter                                                                         ing
    Push / Pull
    The World as Will and Idea                                                                        and
    Electric shock club                                                                                      soft
    Yield                                                                                                                 rub-
    Missing Person Column                                                                                 bing
    Pet dog make-up
    Dialectic                                                                many
    Loneliness                                                          heavy
    Artificial penis                                                       me-
    Holy Roman Empire
    “ ”

1995. 4   [ Back to Contents]

Translator's Note: Originally, the Chinese version of this poem was arranged vertically, not horizontally. Listed on the upper side were thirty nouns or symbols-- thirty elements or phenomena of the human world--suggesting the loads on the human heart. On the lower part, twenty-five Chinese words were unevenly in a row like a curved silk thread, lying soft under yet trying to lift the heavy burden. The tenderness of poetry or love ('silklike phrases and words') seems powerful enough to help us bear the unbearable weight of life.


A War Symphony


乒乒乒乒乒乒乒乒乓乓乓乓乓乓乓乓乒乒    乒乒乒    乓
乓乓    乒乓乒乒     乒    乓        乒乒            乒乒         乓乓
乒乒        乓乒    乒    乓     乒    乓    乒乒乒        乓     乒
    乒乒    乓    乓乓    乒     乒        乓         乒    乓             乒
乒                         乓乓                         乓                 乒    乓
    乒             乓                乒                      乓                乓
            乒                                                                乓


1995. 7   [ Back to Contents]

Translator's Note: The Chinese character '' (pronounced as 'bing') means 'soldier'. '' and '' (pronounced as 'ping' and 'pong'), which look like one-legged soldiers, are two onomatopoeic words imitating sounds of collision or gunshots. The character '' (pronounced as 'chiou') means 'hill'.



Three Poems in Search of the Composer/Singer

Starry Night


Every pachinko house in heaven……………………



Wind Blowing over the Plain

(噓--  );

(  噓 --               )                                                    ;











Footprints in the Snow









1995. 7   [ Back to Contents]

Translator's Note: Pachinko is a game of gambling with a lot of small metal balls whirling around in an upright box, popular in Japan as well as in Taiwan. The titles of the second and third poems are taken from Debussy's piano work Preludes. The meanings of the four Chinese characters in the second poem are as follows--
= hush           = mouth       = empty       
= man




A Love Poem Keyed in with Wrong Words Because of Sleepiness


My dare [dear], I swear that I love you for evil [ever].

I miss those wonderfool [wonderful] nights we spat [spent] together,

those sublind [sublimed] nights which are joyful,

gleetful [gleeful] and affected [affectionate].

I miss those wet [great] poems we read together,

those vivid and wicked [witty] images

which make me feel both hungry and food [full]

on wrong [long] and winding nights like tonight.


My horny [honey], my love for you will lost [last] for ever.

Among thousands of flowers, only one will I fuck [pluck].

I want [won’t] leave you

I want [won’t] let you be sexually harassed.

Our love is as poor [pure] and clean

as green penis [plants] carrying on photosynthesis

intercoursing senselessly [ceaselessly] in the sunlight and moonlight.


Our love is blessed by Dog [God].



1994. 8   [ Back to Contents]




The Ropewalker

Now what I sustain is, floating in the air, your laughter,
your laughter, through the obscure quivering net.
What if a ball larger than a roof should be thrown over?
Would it drive you into sudden melancholy?
A ball like the earth, pouring onto your face the unfastened
islands and lakes (just like a wheelbarrow with a loose screw).
Those black and blue bruises are the collisions with mountains,
the metaphysical mountain ranges harder than iron wheels,
the metaphysical burdens, anxiety, metaphysical aestheticism...
And the so-called aestheticism, to me, who tremble in the air,
is perhaps only a restraint from a sneeze, an itch, with
the head still up.

What runs over you at the same time is the joke system of
all continents and subcontinents, interwoven in your body like tributaries,
a joke not very funny: black humor, white terrorism,
red blood. Red, because you once blushed with your heart fluttering
for the beloved girl (of course you can
't forget the hatred and bright red blood
aroused by jealousy and fury...) But you
're simply a ropewalker
walking on the earth, yet discontented with only being a ropewalker
walking on the earth.

Now what I sustain are the subjects left behind by the
departed circus: time, love, death, loneliness, belief,
dreams. Will you thus unpack the parcel before a houseful of
silent audience? The moment of sudden solemnity after roaring
You simply pull out, wipe, rearrange the earth
's internal organs,
those spare parts that make the world move, sunshine leap,
the male and the female animals reach their orgasms...
They don
't even know why you stay there,
stay there (restrain from sneezing and itching),
a wingless butterfly turning a somersault where it is.

So you tremble in the air, cautiously constructing
a garden of jokes on the dangling rope,
cautiously walking across the earth, propping up
the floating life,
with a slanting bamboo cane,
with a fictitious pen.

1995. 3   [ Back to Contents]




The Image Hunter
     -- in memory of Kevin Carter

If there is a war far away, and the black chessmen
carrying rifles, spears, and axes fight hand to hand against the fully armed
white chessmen on the street, if a chessman
falls down, wails, blood splashing around,
how will you, a hunter whose camera serves as a gun,
make quick movements, hold your breath, and push the camera shutter
as if triggering a gun to give another shot before
death departs, and hunt its most touching image in time?

If there is starvation far away, and naked and skinny humans
embrace one another in the wilderness, awaiting Lord
's supper of
blood and tears
to feed their bodies, if a girl
falls weakly, head on earth, with a vulture behind her
waiting for the corpse with cruel greed,
merciful hunter, how will you
move slowly, restrain the sense of guilt, cautiously avoid disturbing
the food-seeking vulture and spoiling the perfection of the picture
so as to present the world with true and grievous art?

If there is a war far away, morality and art,
conscience and duty, if the mosquitoes of death and of beauty
gather simultaneously on a living lump of
rotten flesh, poets who sit in the study reading about
the world, how will you wave the swats of reality and aesthetics
which have so very different graduations, how will you wind the
of suffering and passion, making fruit slack enough to flow out
juice, how will you develop the images of tragedy
with the pictures of words, how will you reconcile the contradictory compassion
with the compassionate contradiction?

1994.11   [ Back to Contents]

Author's Note: Kevin Carter was a South African photojournalist born in 1960. In May, 1994, a picture of a Sudanese girl who was on the verge of dying of starvation and becoming the prey of vultures (printed in New York Times, March 1993) won him the Pulitzer Prize for feature photography. Being awarded, Carter was criticized for capturing the scene at the cost of others' misfortune. In July, 1994, Carter killed himself with carbon monoxide. His last words were, It's a pity that in life pain prevails over joy after all.




Furniture Music

I read on the chair
I write on the desk
I sleep on the floor
I dream beside the closet

I drink water in spring
(The cup is in the kitchen cupboard)
I drink water in summer
(The cup is in the kitchen cupboard)
I drink water in fall
(The cup is in the kitchen cupboard)
I drink water in winter
(The cup is in the kitchen cupboard)

I open the window and read
I turn on the light and write
I draw the curtains and sleep
I wake inside the room

Inside the room are the chairs
and the dreams of the chairs
Inside the room are the desk
and the dreams of the desk
Inside the room are the floor
and the dreams of the floor
Inside the room are the closet
and the dreams of the closet

In the songs that I hear
In the words that I say
In the water that I drink
In the silence that I leave

1995. 7   [ Back to Contents]




A Prayer of Gears

Oh Lord, our
life is so,
so strugglingly
revolving, a set
of tooth-biting
gears, the planets
that bite and fall
ceaselessly, with you
as our center, with night
as our center.
What ties us is
the unfathomable
fear, the provocation
of omnipresent
darkness. We
're the eternal
led by others
yet leading others,
unable to twist off ethics,
morality, passion, and fury.
Oh Lord, we are
traveling in the universe,
the metal family
with grim hard edges,
returning an eye for an eye, a
tooth for a tooth, circling
in nothingness, the
lonely hedgehogs that
rub each other
humble bodies to keep
warm. Please tolerate
our discord and
friction, tolerate
our daily trivial
dirty fight for
power and profit,
biting and falling:
a collective living body
that we can
't but accept.
Oh Lord, we are
silent mills
in the prison of time, Sisyphuses
who push and grind
grinding desires, grinding
agony, grinding out
spots of mystery,
the starlight of
ecstatic powder, the heroin
that makes death dizzy,
the flowers of evil
that make night tremble. So
strugglingly we bite
and revolve because
oh Lord, they will
follow the light and see
our hereditary
garden of soul.

1995. 7   [ Back to Contents]




The Autumn Wind Blows
   -- for Li Ke-ran

The autumn wind blows down new sorrow
and the skull of the fatherland...

The autumn wind, on a summer street in Taipei,
at the end of the century,
between the water lily pond and a pachinko house,
a middle-aged man, having just stepped out of the History
Museum, is dripping wet with sweat
which still smells of the shining black ink
in your paintings. He recalls to mind twenty years ago
when, in an imported hardback book in English,
he first bumped into your subtly magnificent landscape,
The Boundless Landscape is Absorbed in the Picture,
which is now hanging right on the eastern wall of the museum.
Those mountains, those waters, the same images of sail
were stamped, like a stab, in his chest just rid of
history textbooks. A college student accustomed to
the banana green and the rice yellow,
he casually opened the newly-bought book in English
to the vague scene of spring rain south of the Yangtze River,
to a gust of autumn wind.

The Autumn Wind Blows down the Red Rain.
In a foreign-made Chinese painting album,
those frosty leaves, flying over the laterally-moving letters,
were printed vertically one by one in my heart.
I was the shepherd boy buried in the music of the flute, in your
paintings. The autumn wind blows down the red rain
on the territory of old dreams which die and revive
repeatedly. Sparse willows
are hung with new leaves; plum blossoms
are blown into spring.
In an age of taboos,
I peeped at you, who, on pure white paper,
dyed the woods in the mountains totally red
with timid guts and persevering soul.

To dye, or not to dye?
Whether it be an inspiration from Chairman Mao
's poem
or an attempt to write biographies for the landscape of the native
you knew you were aiming at
ever-transcending creativity.
You broke the skull of the fatherland forcefully
to endow the landscape with new souls.
Three thousand abandoned paintings, one living life.
You made the landscape survive in you.
Cultural Revolution, armed strife, exile, denouncement.
With threats under which even plants were taken for enemy troops
the ruler ruled over art.
With army-like grass and trees, with
knife-sharp brushes and ink, you liberated politics,
liberated such a beautiful land.

To dye, or not to dye?
Dyeing every grass, every tree
in every mountain, every water,
you gave the picturesque landscape
new pictures: shepherd boys on buffalo
's backs,
autumn wind with red rain.
You gave the sorrowful autumn new sorrow.

At the end of the century, on a summer street
between the water lily pond and a pachinko house,
a middle-aged man, having just stepped out of the History
Museum, is dripping wet with sweat.
Looking up, he is greeted by
a sudden gust of autumn wind.
He holds tight the Dajia straw hat
which comes near being blown away,
as if it were a new skull.

'The Landscape of Guilin, the World of Dajia' :
a real estate advertisement occurs to him in
the nostalgia which gets mixed up all of a sudden, and
in the red rain which is blown down ceaselessly.

1994. 7   [ Back to Contents]

Author's Note: The Autumn Wind Blows Down the Red Rain (quoted from Shi Tao, a Chinese painter of Ming Dynasty), The Boundless Landscape is Absorbed in the Picture, and Dye the Woods in the Mountains Totally Red (quoted from Mao Tse-tung) are titles of the paintings of Li Ke-ran (1907-1989).  'Write biographies for the landscape of the native countryand  'Three thousand abandoned paintings' are the contents of two of his seals.

Translatorr's Note:  Li Ke-ran: one of the most renowned contemporary Chinese painters, whose Chinese name 'Ke-ran' literally means 'can be dyed'. Guilin is a city in the northeast of Guangxi, in Southern China, famous for its beautiful scenery. Dajia is a town in Taichung, in the central part of Taiwan, famous for its straw hats. There is a Chinese saying, 'The landscape of Guilin is the most beautiful in the world' (桂林山水甲天下). But here in this poem Chen Li cleverly transforms it into '桂林山水大甲天下', which can be interpreted in two ways: one is that "the landscape of Guilin is by far the most beautiful in the world;"  the other is that however beautiful Guilin may be, Dajia is itself a world of unique beauty. In the last stanza, the middle-aged man is lost in the confusing nostalgia, which implies the dilemma many Taiwanese are in: to be linked to Mainland China ('the skull of the fatherland'), or to break away from it. The poet seems to have made his choice: he 'holds tight the Dajia straw hat / which comes near being blown away, / as if it were a new skull'.



Formosa, 1661

I've always thought that we are living on the cowhide
though God has granted that I mix my blood, urine
and excrement with this land.
Exchange fifteen bolts of cloth for the land as large as a cowhide?
The aboriginals wouldn
't possibly know a cowhide can be cut
into strips, and, like the spirit of omnipresent
God, encircle the whole Tayouan island,
the whole Formosa. I like the taste of
venison, I like cane sugar and bananas, I like
the raw silk shipped back to Holland by the East Indian company.

God's spirit is like raw silk, smooth, holy and pure.
It shines upon the youngsters from Bakloan and Tavacan
who come daily to the youth school to learn spelling, writing,
praying, and catechism. Oh Lord, I hear the Dutch language
they speak smell of venison (just like the Sideia language
I utter from time to time in my sermon).
Oh Lord, in Dalivo, I have taught fifteen married women and
maidens to say Lord
s prayer, the Gospel, the Ten Commandments,
and prayers before and after meals; in Mattau, I have taught
seventy-two married and unmarried young men to say
various prayers, to know the main religious doctrines, to read,
and by sincerely teaching and preaching catechism, to start
enlarging their knowledge
--oh, knowledge is like a cowhide
which can be folded and put into a traveling bag to carry
from Rotterdam to Batavia, from Batavia to
this subtropical island, and be unfolded into our Majesty
's agricultural
the Lord
's nation, cut into strips of twenty-five ges,
which length squared forms one morgen, and then three and four

In Zeelandia, between public measurement office, tax office,
and the theater, I see it flying like a flag, smiling remotely
at Provintia. Oh, knowledge
brings people joy, just like good food and various
spices (if only they knew how to cook Holland peas).
Oranges, with sour flesh and bitter skin, are larger than tangerines. But
  they don't know that
in summer the water tastes even better than love-making when mixed
with salt and smashed oranges. In Tirosen,
I have acquainted thirty married young women with various prayers
and simplified key items; in Sinkan, one hundred and two
married men and women are taught to read and write (oh, I
feel those Romanized Bibles in aboriginal languages
taste of the venison flavored with European ginger).
Ecclesiastes in the Favorlang language, the Gospel According to
  Matthew in the Sideia language:
the marriage of the civilized and the primitive. Let God
's spirit
enter the flesh of Formosa
--or, let the venison of Formosa enter my
stomach and spleen to become my blood, urine and
excrement, to become my spirit. I
've always thought that we are living
on the cowhide, though those Chinese troops are approaching
on junks and sampans with large axes and knives
attempting to cover us with another bigger
cowhide. God has granted that I mix my blood,
urine, and excrement with the aboriginals
and print them, like letters, on this land.
How I wish they knew this cowhide, in which new spelling
words are wrapped, can be cut into strips and thumbed into
pages, a dictionary loaded with sounds, colors, images, odors
and as broad as God's spirit.

1995. 4   [ Back to Contents]

Author's Note: Bakloan, Tavacan, Dalivo, Sinkan, Tirosen, and Mattau are names of communities of the Plain Aboriginals in Taiwan. The Sideia language and the Favorlang language are dialects of the Plain Aboriginals (Sideia is also called Siraya). Zeelandia was a city built on Tayouan island (now called Anping, in Tainan) by the Dutch during the Dutch Occupation times (1624-1662). Provintia was a fort built by the Dutch. It is said that the Dutch offered to exchange fifteen bolts of cloth with the aboriginals for a cowhide-large piece of land. Being accepted, they 'cut the cowhide into strips and encircled a land more than one kilometer in circumference.' (See Lien Heng: A General History of Taiwan). 'Ge' was a unit of measurement used by the Dutch, equaling about twelve feet and five inches. Twenty-five ges squared equals one morgen. Five morgens makes one 'zhangli'.


Selected Poems of Chen Li

In Front of the Temple    Animal Lullaby       Rainstorm    
Traveling in the Family      Microcosmos      The Edge of the Island
The Cat at the Mirror     

  Introduction to
Chen Li's Poetry  

     by  Chang Fen-ling

陳 黎文學倉庫
Chen Li's   Literary Bank    

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