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 Selected Poems of Chen Li
Translated by Chang Fen-ling

] From

See poems in Chinese

Song of Big Wind  Rainstorm  February   Autocracy

Imitation of Atayal Folk Song : Passion / The House / The World / The Moonbeam in the Valley

Merry-Go-Round  A Prayer for My Daughter  Green Onions  Buffalo

Street Mirror  The Distant Mountain  Shadow Fighters

Listening to Winterreise on a Spring Night

Taroko Gorge, 1989   The Last Wang Mu-Qi


Song of Big Wind


Thirty years old. The timid look of an infant.

Awake from a nightmare again at five o'clock.
There is still a teacher to give you tests,
there is still a secret agent to find fault with you,
there are still military instructors, tutors, and disciplinary patrols to temper your behavior,
to evaluate your honesty.
You wash your face, brush your teeth,
and before going to the toilet finish the poem you started reading last night before you went
to bed.
Pickles. Motorcycles.
Flag raising. Good morning, teacher.
Jogging on sunny days.
Opening and closing an umbrella on rainy days.

A big wind is blowing,
blowing on the fog of a century's depression,
blowing on the dust accumulating on office desks,
blowing on the filth gathering in corners of local-news pages,
blowing on banality,
blowing on pedantry,
blowing on bookbags,
blowing on the safety helmet of the personnel director.

A big wind is blowing,
blowing on unbearable tears of one thousand years,
blowing on travelers stumbling over thorns,
blowing on starlight thinking in the dark night,
blowing on furious-looking old writers of futile passion,
blowing on widows with hatred in dreams and blood in hatred,
blowing on manure,
blowing on green grass,
blowing on wild roses in little sisters' hair.

Thirty years old. The heavy steps of a tortoise.
Still seeming capable of pride.
Still seeming able to laugh wildly.
Cold tea. Hot sweat.
Going upstairs. Class dismissed.
Ever-twinkling traffic lights all the way. Slogans.
History. Black fog...

"A big wind is blowing, blowing on what?"
On all the people with love and tears.






I hear the rainstorm shouting at us,
ten thousand acres of trembling starlight and shadows.
I hear the vast ocean crying for her lost babies,
dark sighs and breaths.

Rotten night,
rotten night.
An ideal has died here.
Do you see that?

Rotten night,
rotten night.
An ideal is about to resurrect.
Do you hear that?

I hear mud and sand carrying pollen,
stinking water carrying honey.
I see excrement fostering rice,
rotten iron supporting insects' chirps.

Swinging among waves is the world's rubbish:
kernels, waste paper, dead sperm.
Agitating among waves are people's words:
prayers, love poems, obscene shouts.

Tear the shore open!
Tear the shore open!
Do you hear them yelling,
washing our guardian dam of morality like the rainstorm?

Tear the shore open!
Tear the shore open!
Do you see their shadows,
rising from the secret ocean of life like giant trees?

And you are you still the proud cliff?
Plunge into that ocean!
Plunge into that ocean!
A great love is to be born here!







Gunshots died away among the dusk flight of birds.

Missing fathers' shoes.
Missing sons' shoes.

Footsteps returning to every morning bowl of porridge.
Footsteps returning to the water of every evening washbasin.

Missing black hair of mothers.
Missing black hair of daughters.

Rebelling against the foreign regime while ruled by it.
Raped by the fatherland while embracing it.

Reeds. Thistles. Wilderness. Outcry.

Missing calendars of autumn.
Missing calendars of spring.


Translator's Note:
 In this poem, what the poet has in mind is undoubtedly the tragic event which occurred in Taiwan on February 28, 1947 and caused the deaths of  hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese people. After the event, Taiwan was under martial law for nearly half a century. And the tragedy remained a national taboo until 1987, when martial law was lifted.






They are the lawmen who tamper with grammar at will.

Singular, yet accustomed to plural forms.
Objects, yet presuming to be subjects.

Hungry for the future tense when young.
Indulged in the past tense when old.

Needless to be translated.
Resistant to any changes.

Fixed sentence patterns.
Fixed sentence patterns.
Fixed sentence patterns.

The only transitive verb: suppress.





Imitation of Atayal Folk Song


1  Passion

I would rather that my love lived in a far-off place
so that I might talk to her more boldly and freely.
(Ah, how like flies and spiders and ants it is
to whisper in the ear only! )
I might take her hand, kick her feet
without having to be afraid of her squint-eyed and broad-shouldered uncle and aunt;
I might praise and sing at the top of my lungs
without having to fear the nightingale across the street should mimic it or spread it out.

I would rather that my love lived in the snowy north.
There, in heavy drowsiness and a tremor
she will recall the nocturnal sky of the south more clearly:
the sweat in May, the heat in July.

2  Houses

Some build their houses on the stone,
some on the steel pillars.
I build mine on the wine jar,
swaying and singing with the sweet smell of wine overflowed by earthquakes.

3  The World

The world is heavy.
The world is unsteady.
The world is a seesaw going up and down.

Meditative people conceive sorrow.
They sit occupying one edge of the world

(how heavy the world is!)

Fame-seeking and profit-scrambling people, with helmets and armors,
swarm to the other side of the world

(gee, the world goes tilting!)

The world is heavy.
The world is unsteady.
I am the ever-balanced scale.

5  The Moonbeam in the Valley

The moonbeam in the valley flows slowly.
It flows past the stream bank where my baby plays.
Antelopes, deer, piglets in fairy tales,
walk one by one onto her heart.

The moonbeam in the valley flows slowly.
It flows into my baby's pond of dreams.
Butterflies, paper boats, silver bees,
quiver gently with her smiles.

The moonbeam in the valley flows slowly.
My baby is soundly asleep

beautiful flowers come into her dream,
blooming on her mother's songs.



Translator's Note:
Atayal is one of the aboriginal tribes in Taiwan.
The "valley"
in the poem "The Moonbeam in the Valley" refers to Taroko Gorge,
a national park located in Hualien, Chen Li's hometown.
The Atayals are the original inhabitants of Taroko Gorge.





Merry-go-round. A city park on Sunday afternoon.
In a ten-dollar song operated by machine
the world and childhood went round slowly.
My daughter and I, sitting at two opposite points of a circle,
rode our respective toy horses parading in the land of the fairy tale.
Motionless stone lions, stone elephants, stone giraffes,
joined in the prancing parades in a daze.
The green mountain, green rivers, the Martyrs' Shrine,
revolved with us as well.
We galloped in the overlapped time and space,
her childhood chasing my childhood.
I turned around, seeing my father seated behind her back
chased by my swift-moving childhood.

The Martyrs' Shrine on Sunday morning. My young father
ran up and down the steps with Mother and me.
I was eating sushi, Mother was singing sweet songs of flowers.
Father talked with Mother in Japanese interspersed with Taiwanese.
A military truck went down the hill loaded with soldiers.
By the suspension bridge, two aboriginal women
walked from the Meilung Stream with newly-caught clams on heads.
We went up to rest under an iron war-horse carved with 'Recover Our Territory'.
Ma said the Martyrs' Shrine used to be a Japanese temple.
I asked what was the difference between a martyrs' shrine and a temple.
Pa said a temple was built to worship Japanese gods, while the Martyrs' Shrine
was to worship soldiers killed by the communists, or
martyrs caught by the Japanese.

I asked if G
randpa's third brother was a martyr, who was caught after the retrocession of Taiwan.

Merry-go-round. A city park on an autumn afternoon.
The history losing weight in the whirling circle.
The gunshots from the martial prison behind the bamboo groves.
Cicadas' chirping. Reeds.
Japanese concrete lanterns coming up all the way along the stone steps.
Childhood. Wonderland. My daughter and I
sat on the whirling mechanical horses, listening to our respective nursery rhymes.
"A white egret, driving a dustpan, to the stream bank..."
Sausage sellers, ice cream peddlers, hot dog and tempura peddlers.
The ten-dollar mechanical nursery rhyme stopped abruptly
in the noise of reality. I sat on my wooden horse,
someone calling, "Papa, Papa, let's go home."
An autumn afternoon. The shadow-lengthening Martyrs' Shrine.
I rose, with my daughter in my arms,
recalling to mind the nursery rhyme she had just learned from her grandma:

"Silver moonbeams, a learned scholar, riding a white horse, across the lily pond..."


Translator's Note:
 "sushi": a Japanese dish consisting of small cakes of cold cooked rice flavored with vinegar, typically garnished with strips of raw or cooked fish, cooked egg, vegetables, etc.
"tempura": a Japanese dish consisting of shrimp, fish, vegetables, etc. dipped in an egg batter and deep-fried.
In the second stanza, the historical background of Taiwan is implied through the dialogue between an innocent child and his father:
Taiwan, once ruled by the Japanese, is now governed by the Nationalist Party of China (Kuomintang).
 Different rulers give different definitions of "martyr"—
for Kuomintang, only the soldiers captured or killed by the Japanese or the Communist army are martyrs,
 while the Taiwanese killed in "the Event of February 28"
are regarded as rebels. The wheel of politics toys with the fate of the Taiwanese.
Yet, when history loses "weight in the whirling circle," the merry-go-round with family love as its axis can still gallop and sing.



A Prayer for My Daughter


Not until the whole street has fallen asleep
will you lower your head wearily and reluctantly.
Your hands, refusing to let go of the story book,
still hang stubbornly on to the longing of your tiny little heart:
reviewing repeatedly the battle between the kind prince and the devil,
waiting patiently for the plump fairy to smile at the little squirrel.
Uncle Ocean, a peddler, has returned home with the empty pots deeper than the night;
the rice store, the florist, the bird shop across the street have turned off the lights and retired to bed.
They are all resting
to store greater energy for tomorrow.
You may not realize, while you're having sweet dreams,
the city is awake again:
papa and mama are hurrying to the school to supervise their students;
Uncle Lin is awaiting the office bus bound for Taroko Gorge;
the Lo sisters have got dressed in uniform, with satchels on backs;
the next-door plumber has got his tools ready for work.
Everyone must work
for sweeter sleep
in the night.

Asleep or awake, you too are a member of the world.
Frustration may come about occasionally;
shadows may show up sometimes.
I pray that your skies are free from clouds and storms of long-term martial law,
and there is no need to tear open violently the curtain of hope.
I pray that no autocratic conductor exists in your ocean
to force you to sing the sole breeze,
to believe in the sole blue
(a three-year-old child like you knows in the box of colored pencils
there are many shades of blue).
I pray that nothing will be labeled as heresy in your zoo,
because all heroes were once traitors,
and all revolutionists may have been anti-revolutionists.
I pray that no plants are forbidden in your botanic garden,
because a poppy means opium, and a poppy is
also a poppy

Once on a hill in the suburbs
you refused to taste the wild strawberries, which we had all tasted.
You said, 'Snow White died from eating the witch's apple.'
But it's not the apple that is poisonous.
What poisons us is the human heart, the witch's hands.

You may well doubt,
but you must believe in the sincerity of life:
every flower is the prettiest,
every language is the best.
Every day you hear your mama chatting in Hakka dialect with Granny.
Isn't it nice?
Every day you see in cartoons and fairy tales
'funny' characters. Aren't they beautiful?
You may well stick to the good, but needn't be obstinate.
You may well seek after perfection,
but needn't suffer for not being perfect

Lily, my Lily,
I expect you to stand on your own land independently,
observing the world aloofly, conducting yourself passionately.
I expect you to take the world as it is open-mindedly,
all its joy and sorrow, its hatred and love.
I'll pray for you again before daybreak:
     let's breathe with the world,
     let's work and rest with the world.





Green Onions


Mother bade me to buy some green onions.
I passed Nanking Street, Shanghai Street,
and Chiang Kai-shek Road (which sound strange
nowadays), and then I reached
Chung-hua Market.
I said in Taiwanese to the vegetable saleswoman,
"I want to buy some green onions!"
She handed me a bunch of green onions smelling of mud.
When I got home, I heard the Holland peas in the basket
telling Mother in Hakka dialect that the green onions were brought home.

I sipped the Japanese soup in the morning as if sucking Mother's breast
and took it for granted that miso shiru was my mother tongue.
I ate the pan bought from the bakery every evening,
not knowing that I was eating the bread with Portuguese pronunciation.
I put the scrambled eggs into my lunch box, put my lunch box into my satchel,
and ate my lunch stealthily after every class.
The teacher taught us music, the teacher taught us Chinese,
the teacher taught us to sing "Counter-attack, counter-attack, counter-attack the Chinese mainland,"
The teacher taught us arithmetic:

"If each national flag contains three colors, how many colors
then do three flags have?"
The class leader said there were nine, the vice-leader said three,
the green onion in my lunch box said one.
"Because," it said,
"Whether in the soil, in the market, or in the scrambled eggs with dried radish,
I am the green onion,
the Taiwanese green onion."

I traveled around with the empty lunch box smelling of green onion.
The noise in the market called my name zealously in the box.
I struggled over the Brahmaputra River, the Bayenkala Mountains,
and the Pamirs (which don't sound unusual
at all now),
then I reached the Green-Onion Mountain Range.
I said in Taiwanese Chinese, "I want to buy some green onions!"
The vast Green-Onion Mountain Range gave no answer.
There was no green onion in the Green-Onion Mountain Range.

All of a sudden I am reminded of my youth.
Mother is still at the door waiting for me to bring back green onions.


Translator's Note:
Taiwan has been coveted by many countries since ancient times. It was visited by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century, colonized by the Dutch and the Spanish
 in the seventeenth century. After that, it was governed by Zheng Chen-kong and the Manchus. In 1895, it was ceded to Japan, which ruled over it
 for fifty-one years until the Kuomintang government took it over in 1945.
Under the reign of so many different rulers, the culture of Taiwan has undergone the process of mixture and assimilation.

Miso shiru is a kind of Japanese soup flavored with miso, a food paste made of soybeans, salt, and, usually, fermented grain;
pan in Taiwanese means "bread," yet it is actually a word borrowed from Portuguese.
Scrambled eggs with dried radish is a typical Taiwanese dish flavored with green onion.

The Bayenkala Mountains, in the eastern Tibetan Highlands, are where China's two longest rivers, the Yangtze River and the Yellow River, originate.
 The Green-Onion Mountain Range (the Pamirs are part of it) is a mountain range in southwestern Sinkiang, known as the ridge of Asia.
 The journey of buying green onions can be seen as a process of returning to the native land.
 "There was no green onion in the Green-Onion Mountain Range"
because the poet has come to realize that his roots are in Taiwan.






Those officials from the north swarmingly
stepped down the dim stone stairs, some
leaning on walking sticks, some coughing lightly.
Accidentally bumping against a wall with a relief of water buffalo on it, they stopped.
"Water buffalo?" said one of them.
"Things left behind since the Japanese Occupation times.
Ha, those ignorant Taiwanese buffalo, fatalistic and naive..."
They followed an increasing number of visitors into the hall ablaze with lights
and seated themselves in the old hall of the viceroy office of the colonial period,
chatting and executing the Constitution for the people who they had never acted on behalf;
what they chewed in the mouth tired of speech might be
Taiwan sugar, which they had had so much as to suffer from diabetes.
Drinking tea, urinating, on the laboriously-carved dreams of the people,
why should they bother to tell whether bananas or barley is grown in the soil under the buffalo's feet?
Buffalo are buffalo even if they are led to Peking.

I am thinking in the long night about the relief in the dark corner.
Five water buffalo, foundling each other joyfully on the green land,
melt the day's sweets and bitters together with their master
in a brief yet comfortable rest.
Dream-like green grass, water-like fine wind.
They turn to accept the earth's caress after the exhausting plowing.
That naked shepherd boy may be you, may be I,
may be our unborn offspring.
With a long hoe and a short bamboo hat, he plays with the cattle
on the mid-summer evening of the island.
They plow their own fields, being their own masters,
reaping the vast splendor of sunset, and the pure moon.
Five water buffalo, stout as thick and callous palms,
giant-like, are stamped into the breast of history
and reach the heart of darkness

reach the newly-completed city art museum.
That day, along with the students visiting in a queue the government-operated memorial art exhibition,
I stood before the shining bronze water buffalo.
I saw more clearly the secret of the island.
Lingering among those still bright and beautiful paintings and sculptures,
I found what I walked into was not the art history of the Japanese Occupation times,
but the dreams of the island, the heart of the history.
How far-away and vague those times were!
Sculpturing his people's images under the oppression of a different race,
soaking his body in the mud of his native land,
Huang Tu-shui, how transient yet gigantic a life!
I imagine those pioneers plowing and carrying on their backs this land like water buffalo. 
Their passion, guts, perseverance, and wisdom
go deep into earth like the ever-dripping rain,
blossoming and yielding fruit in desolation and taboos.

Buffalo are buffalo even if they have never been to Peking.


Author's Note:
The Portrait of Water Buffalo
was the famous work of Huang Tu-shui (1895-1930), a gifted, pioneering Taiwanese sculptor in the early 20th century. This work of sculpture is now displayed on the wall in front of the stone staircase between the second and the third floor behind the Kuanfu Hall in Taipei. Recently the Council for Cultural Planning and Development appropriated funds to make two bronze copies of it and presented them to Taipei City Art Museum and Taichung Provincial Art Museum. Wei Qing-de, a poet, once wrote about the sculpture: "This masterpiece, eighteen meters in length and nine meters in height, represents in relief a mid-summer banana orchard: the gentle breeze blows, green leaves flutter, five water buffalo fondle each other on the green pasture, two naked shepherd boys look innocent and carefree— one sitting on the back of a buffalo, with bamboo cane in hand, ...the other standing by a buffalo, passing his hand over it. The scene poetically forms a picture of serene and peaceful landscape of the south."

Translator's Note:
  The poem is not only a tribute to Huang Tu-shui's artistic accomplishments, but an attempt to recapture through his work the suffering and tough images of the Taiwanese people and to go deep into the profound secrets and dreams of this island. To the Taiwanese who have long been governed and exploited by foreign regimes, the serene and peaceful scene in Huang Tu-shui's relief
The Portrait of Water Buffalo is symbolic of ideal life— self-contented and carefree— in which one reaps the fruit of hard work and in which social justice is not a faraway dream.
"Buffalo are buffalo even if they are led to Peking" is a Taiwanese proverb, whose equivalent in English may be "The leopard cannot change its spots." Chen Li subtly transforms it into: "Buffalo are buffalo even if they have never been to Peking," which may be seen as an assertion of the independence of the Taiwanese people from the Chinese mainland.





Street Mirror


I don't want to say there is poetry in all mirrors
but you'll soon find your reflection there:
oh, pale, hunchbacked old lady living next door,
I couldn't but see simultaneously your childish grandson playing in the street
when you were stealthily standing behind the half-shut door, listening
to the clamorous scripture chanting coming from the bereaved family across the street,
familiar yet frightened:

just like us, once carried away by love in our maidenhood.






The Distant Mountain


The distant mountain gets more and more distant.

Once, in the morning of childhood,
with each day's new-born ideal,
it rose like a morning song on the heart's flagpole.
It was once the stands in the baseball stadium, a badge on the chest,
the screen of dreams, the piggy bank of tears.

The distant mountain grows up with you, and watches you grow old.

Between the afternoon wind and antennas,
between the human dusk and filth,
behind houses, cars, cords, and knives, all kinds of
regular and irregular non-blocks

the distant mountain          is talking to the distant mountain.

It tells you the silence that is never spoken.
When you are in love, the distant mountain
comes close again overnight.





Shadow Fighters


We ride to work on gray shadows in the morning white as soybean milk.
We ride from work on gray shadows in the evening dense as sauce.
We're the headless riders who have tossed racked brains to the setting sun.
We're the Don Quixotes who have hidden the glimmering starlit dream in the dark night.

We run after rumors, wipe out the crashing truth,
hurrah with the puppets whose single movement may result in thousands of others.
We catch at winds and shadows, change with anything new,
mark time because of helpless circuit.

We take pain for painlessness,
take dullness for undullness,
take killing for non-killing,
take loneliness for non-loneliness.

Poppies. Bankbooks. Lighters. Lunch boxes.
We duplicate today's garbage and smiles from yesterday's.
Invisible youth, unrevenged enmity.
With wide open eyes we watch our bodies and swords getting old, yet the hearts remaining young.

We're the Don Quixotes who have hidden the glimmering starlit dream in the dark night.
We're the headless riders who have tossed racked brains to the setting sun.
We ride from work on gray shadows in the evening dense as sauce.
We ride to work on gray shadows in the morning white as soybean milk.





Listening to Winterreise on a Spring Night
    for Fischer-Dieskau


The world is getting old,
laden with such heavy love and nihilism.
The lion in your songs is getting old too,
still leaning affectionately against the childhood linden tree,
unwilling to give in to sleep.

Sleep may be desirable, when
the past days are like layers of snow
covering human misery and suffering.
It may be fine to have flowers in one's dream,
when the lonely heart is still seeking green grass in the wilderness.

Spring flowers bloom on winter nights,
boiling tears freeze at the bottom of the lake.
The world teaches us to hope, and disappoints us too.
Our lives are the only thin paper we have,
covered with frost and dust, sighs and shadows.

We dream on the fragile paper—
none the lighter for all its shortness and thinness
We grow trees in the dream which has been erased time and again,
and return to them
each time we feel sad.

I am listening to Winterreise on a spring night.
Your hoarse voice is the dream in my dream,
traveling along with winter and spring.


Author's Note:
In January 1988, I heard Fischer-Dieskau, the famous German baritone, singing Schubert's song cycle,
Die Winterreise (Winter Journey) on satellite TV. Ever since I was a teenager, I have listened to Fischer-Dieskau's recordings of numerous German songs, and I have never got tired of hearing Winterreise. On this occasion, on a quiet midnight, I saw the performance of so many familiar songs, such as "Der Linderbaum" ("The Linden Tree") and "Fruhlingstraum" ("Dream of Spring"), coming out of the throat of the 63-year-old singer, along with the voice of time. I was moved to tears. How much love for art lies in Fischer-Dieskau's aging voice which reminds one of a life full of vicissitudes!





Taroko Gorge, 1989

In a drizzly chilly spring I ponder over the subtle meaning of your silence.

Your vastness is a kind of close intimacy.
The towering mountain walls lie flat at the bottom of my heart like a grain of sand.
Clouds and fog push gently by.
Lushness revolves and pauses in moisture.
The tenderness is like breath,
like the gentle falling of a leaf, the slow flight of a bird,
and the blossoming of a tree
on the steep and slippery mountaintop and cliff.
Your profundity takes in misery and ecstasy,
as solemn as a lush rain forest,
or a dark blue starlit sky. Your sonority is
like lively rabbits and fowls
passing through last summer's torrential mountain floods,
galloping on the sunny morning.
I seem to hear the calling of life to life
in the deep pond where I used to play in my childhood,
in the dream from which I awoke with a start last night.
I seem to see the passion of history
twisted and frozen by time
on the surface of crinkled and rugged rocks,
at the bottom of the valley tumbling with rocks,  
whose veins run like clouds and water,
in the endless gaze between mountains,
in the endless reflection of the sky and earth.

Still you simply look silently at me
walking on your mountain path.
You look at me, time after time,
stumbling before you
just like those who have fallen, bled and died
in your arms for the past thousands of years.

How many times you have left your children
stumbling, hurt and rising in your arms.
How many times you have left them
proceeding and lost in the luxuriant forest scattered with rotten leaves.
You see youth splashing like flying waterfalls,
flowing into the distant ocean with mountain streams.
You see floating clouds loaded with dreams,
vanishing slowly into more giant dreams.
You let them search for massive rocks to meditate on.
You let them lean on the toll of bells to go into the evening.
They grow in the torrential rain.
You have left them standing by the broken cliff,
watching water dripping through rocks,
watching time flowing by like a river day and night.

Time flows by like a river day and night.
You allowed the red-haired Spaniards to gather gold dust in your gorge.
You allowed the red-haired Dutchmen to gather gold dust in your gorge.
You allowed the Chinese driven over the sea by the Manchus to gather gold dust in your gorge.
You allowed the Japanese who drove the Manchus away to gather gold dust in your gorge.

To build fortresses, set up cannons, and kill in your gorge.
To build fortresses, set up cannons, and kill on your mountainside.
To build fortresses, set up cannons, and kill on your streamhead.

You heard the Han people enter and say to those under their knives,
"Surrender, Taroko barbarians!"
You heard the Japanese enter and say to the people under their guns,
"Surrender, Taroko barbarians!"
You watched those tattooed people move gradually from the depth of the mountain to its foot,
from the foot of the mountain to the plain.
You watched them gradually leave their homes
in silence.

You watched them gradually leave their homes
and come to you,
those Chinese who were driven over the sea by the Chinese.

With postwar explosives, nostalgia, bulldozers,
they dug new dreams among your tangled bones.
Some were missing in the tunnels they themselves had dug.
Some sank into the eternal abyss with falling rocks.
Some had one arm or one leg left,
standing in the wind like a persevering tree.
Some took off old robes, picked up hoes,
and nailed new doorplates by the newly-built road.
>From the girls whom they were newly acquainted with in the strange land, they learned
to graft, mix blood, propagate.
Just like the California plums, cabbages, Twentieth-century pears they grew time and again,
they planted themselves into your body.

They hung new names of places over the newly-built roads.
In spring,
their great leader, wearing medals of honor,
came to a place named Tianxiang to appreciate fallen plum blossoms.
They paved the royal couches on the hot-spring path, with hot vapor overhead,
reciting aloud
The Song of Righteousness.
But you are neither Huaqing Pool nor Mawei Slope,
nor the vague, distant Chinese landscape.

That famous painting master Da-qian, with his trembling hand
touching his beautiful beard, more elusive than mountain clouds and fog,
painted nostalgia extravagantly with half-abstract splashes of ink on your concrete face.
They painted the picture of the Yangtze River on your mountain wall.
Yet you are not landscape, not the mountains and rivers in the Chinese landscape painting.
What hangs down from your forehead is neither Li Tang's
Whispering Pines in the Mountains
nor Fan Kuan's Traveling among Rivers and Mountains.
To those who visit you in air-conditioned tourist buses
you are beautiful landscape.
(They are just like the Portuguese who cried out "Formosa"
in a strange tone when their ship passed by the ocean in the east four hundred years ago.)
Yet you are not Formosa, though you are beautiful.
You are not the landscape to be carried, hung, or displayed.
You are living, you are life,
you are the great and truthful existence to
those people of yours,
who vibrate and breathe with the pulse of your veins.

I'm looking for the foggy dawn.
I'm looking for the first black long-tailed pheasant that flew over the gorge.
I'm looking for the indigo and the euphorbia that peeped at each other through crevices.
I'm looking for the red knees of the setting sun that chased the flying squirrels.
I'm looking for the calendars of trees that changed their colors with the changes in temperatures.
I'm looking for the tribe of wind.
I'm looking for the rites of fire.
I'm looking for the footsteps of mountain boars that echoed with the sound of bows.
I'm looking for the bamboo houses of dreams that slept on the pillows of floods.
I'm looking for architecture.
I'm looking for navigation.
I'm looking for the crying stars in mourning.
I'm looking for the mountain moon which, like a hook, hung up the bloody night and the gorge.
I'm looking for the fingers that tied themselves with wires and hung down thousand-foot-high cliffs to
    explode with the mountain.
I'm looking for the light that dug through the wall.
I'm looking for the skull that hit the bow of a ship.
I'm looking for the heart that was buried in strange soil.
I'm looking for a suspension bridge, a song without a shoelace maybe.
I'm looking for the caves of echoes, a group of significant vowels and consonants:

Tangarao, Bunkium, Tupido,
Tanlongan, Losao, Teruwan,
Topogo, Sumeg, Lupog,
Kobayan, Balanao, Botonof,
Kumoxel, Kalagi, Baga-Paras,
Kalapao, Tabula, Lapax,
Qesia, Busiya, Tassil,
Sexengan, Sidagan, Sikalaxen,
Qaugwan, Tomowan, Bolowan,
Vetodan, Putsingan, Senlingan,
Daoleg, Degalan, Degiag,
Sakadan, Palatan, Sowasal,
Bunayan, Bololin, Tabokyan,
Owai, Doyun, Batakan,
Dagali, Xoxos, Waxel,
Sikui, Bokusi, Mogoyisi.

I'm looking for the cave of echoes,
pondering over the secret of the humble residence on earth
in a drizzly chilly spring.
When autumn came, they traveled together on the mountain path in the gorge.
What were waiting in the woods or by the stream
might be a group of suddenly-swarming monkeys,
might be two ownerless bamboo houses standing silently
by the desolate plowland.
Farther into the ancient path, they crossed a shrub of weeds
and encountered again the Japanese army trench lying in ambush.
Still farther on was an aboriginal hunting hut built of thatches,
with a couple of broken pottery pieces left by
the latest party of archeologists.

We pass by Huitowan
and arrive at the suspension bridge where stand nine plum trees.
At the place where Japanese policemen used to be stationed, a modern postman
happily distributes mail into different mailboxes.
It may be taken away by the old veterans living at Water Lily Pond,
who will cross the suspension bridge after two hours' walk,
or by the women living at Plum Village,
who will come jolting all the way down in a cart.

You jolt along into the evening village.
A healthy village boy runs excitedly to greet you.
His agile figure is like the wild deer that his maternal grandfather
hunted fifty years ago.
"Papa has made good tea for you!"
Bamboo Village, the name of their hometown,
so much like the poetry of Tang Dynasty his father read in his youth.
Just like the Atayal people who plowed and hunted here fifty years ago,
they crossed the sea and became the owners of the land,
growing their fruit trees, raising their children.

In the drizzly chilly spring I ponder over the secret of
the humble residence on earth.
One toll pushes another.
Mountains stand beyond mountains.
I go up the steps, in the twilight approaching slantwise
the Buddhist chanting of the mountaintop temple.
Like the repeated beats of waves,
like your vast existence,
how simple and yet complicated the low, repeated chanting is

tolerating the infinitesimal and the vast,
tolerating the distressed and the joyous,
tolerating strangeness,
tolerating imperfection,
tolerating loneliness,
tolerating hatred.
Just like the low-browed benevolent Bodhisattva, you too are
the silent Goddess of Mercy,
impartially looking on the creation of the heaven and the earth, the death of trees and the birth of insects.
The landscape speaks aloud, the skies are boundless.
I seem to hear the calling of life to life.
It goes through the crystal look of mountains and waters,
through the caves of eternal echoes,
and reaches tonight.

The towering mountain walls lie flat at the bottom of my heart like a grain of sand.



*Author's Note:
   The above are the ancient names of the places in
Taroko Gorge. In the Atayal language they refer to different meanings.
For example, Tupido, now called Tianxiang, originally means "palm tree;" Losao originally means "swamp;"
Tabokyan originally means "sowing;" Putsingan originally means "a must for passing;" Bolowan originally means "echo."

Translator's Note:
    Tianxiang: a place in Taroko Gorge, named after Wen Tian-xiang (1236-1282), a heroic character in the last reign of Sung Dynasty, who fought against the invaders only to be captured. Refusing to surrender, he was executed after three years'
imprisonment. Before the execution, he wrote The Song of Righteousness to express his loyalty and patriotism for the native land.
    Huaqing Pool and Mawei Slope: names of places in Tang Dynasty. Yang Yu-huan (719-756), Tang Xuan-zong's favorite concubine, bathed in the former, and was forced to hang herself on the latter.
    Da-qian (Zhang Da-qian, 1899-1983): a master of the traditional Chinese water-and-ink painting. Living in Taiwan in the last years of his life, he painted mostly the scenery of Mainland China.
Li Tang and Fan Kuan: two major Chinese painters of Sung Dynasty, famous for their landscape paintings.
Formosa (meaning "beautiful"): another name for Taiwan given by the Portuguese who reached it in 1590.
The indigo (Indigofera ramulosissims) and the euphorbia (Euphor-bia tarokoensis): two rare species of plants found in Taroko Gorge.
    In Part Four, Chen Li lists twenty images of search, which is an attempt to lead readers into the heart of Taroko Gorge to look for its origins, to take a glimpse at "the secret of the humble residence on earth." He also lists forty-eight ancient names of spots in Taroko Gorge. To the outsiders, they may be meaningless sounds, but to the Atayals, they are significant, vividly revealing the local features. The reason why Chen Li makes such a long list is obvious: he is eagerly inviting readers to go on a journey of retrospection to the lost culture of Taiwan.


The Last Wang Mu-Qi


Seventy days,
we have stuck to the profound darkness,
listening to the coal strata talking with water.
The recycling quiet is as everlasting as tapes,
playing back our breath in the minutest detail.
Roses between the lips,
maggots on the shoulders,
the glowworms breaking in remind me
of the morning stars I saw when I came.
The Keelung River is snaky and winding.
The maple trees at Sijiaoting are frost-cold.

Intricate veins,
mysterious mother.
We are thus warmly immersed in great
Iron spades, coal carts, dynamites, fears
have all slipped along cordage of time into cobwebs of sleep.
White night, black night.
Black night, white night.
Our hearts have gradually yielded to
the uproaring motors, to
the ancient water running more swiftly with every function of pumps.
The Keelung River is vast and imposing,
innumerable bats flutter across the only sky.

Indulged in pure narcissism,
I am surprised to hear my name called
along with cymbals, bells, wooden clappers, and sobbing:

Mu-qi! Mu-qi!"
Oh, Mu-qi! Mu-qi!"

Are you asking me about that sudden deafening explosion?
the earth wept for her long-departed babies.
Tears initiated ten million horses of torrents,
which crazily galloped and ran after me
in the crooked and muddy tunnel,
tumbling baskets,
tumbling wooden shelves.
They went roaring by
before we could possibly recognize them.
I saw them trampling down Wan-lai
's shoulders.
I saw them trampling down A-xin
's forehead.
Yet we didn
't even dare to escape
when we found more horses swarming in from all sides,
gnawing our eyes,
swallowing our hands and feet...

All these came suddenly, just like the scene in
the movie we saw last spring,
and we had failed to surmise the sorrow in it.
How I envy you, the elder who is shuffling by the mine, left foot
crippled by the fallen rocks.
How I adore you, the young man who is still rolling about
in piles of coal.
But haven
't I heard you talking and laughing loudly
when, having smoked the last cigarette, you sat on the morning wood waiting to get into the mine,
when, hoeing lumps of coal, you let your sweat drip into the lunch boxes?
And on those nights of wine bottles as dark as abysses,
in the enchantment of dice as black and hard as coal mines,
't I seen you yelling,
panicking and trembling?

Seventy days.
We have been lying on death
's breast so solidly.
In the profound and brilliant darkness,
our dreams
are the darkness far more brilliant and profound

glittering maps,
eternal kingdoms.

Shu-xian, Huo-tu:
Did you see our newly-completed town of miners?
Neatly-planned buildings,
lush boulevards.
Zhao-ji and Qin-xiang are living right next door to Shuei-yuan, close to
the biggest aquarium.
The cinema is next to the beauty parlor.
The clinic, the opera house, the supermarket
all half a minute's walk.
Li Chun-xiong, who lived in Villiage Sandiao, has now moved to Gold Sesame D Building.
Zheng Chun-fa, who lived in Village Shangtian, has now moved into the 21st floor of Apollo Building.

Shenaokeng Road is to be made into a big park.
Fengzaita Road has long become our favorite golf course.

How about coming over to see my newly-decorated house?
Next to the swimming pool is the garage.
The living room is in the front.
The kitchen is at the back.
On the second and third floors are the bedrooms of my six daughters.
(Tuesday and Thursday, Professor O of the Art College comes for their piano lessons.)
(Saturday, time for outdoor sketching.)
(Sunday morning, time for church-going with their mother.)
You must be wondering where we
've hidden our bicycles.
We have had our driver
's licenses for months.
Next to the dining room is our bathroom.
Next to the bathroom is our alcohol cupboard.
Next to the alcohol cupboard is our television set.
Behind the television set is my son
's study.
(Bi-lu, my son,
I have received the telegram you sent on the 22nd
from Mazu. The
"Wang Mu-tu" on TV is none other than Daddy.)
The bread and butter of sunshine:
I don
't have to be
the Wang Mu-qi who left home at five in the morning!

No more dilapidated and low-hanging eaves.
No more jam-packed beds.
No more bedclothes too short to keep warm.
No more bowls waiting to be fed.
Eagerly-waiting wives lost in apprehension deep as a well; their thick and coarse hands;
on every washed, mended, torn, and stained dress,
the imperishable coal dirt of sorrow.
The bell rang

children after school who played hide-and-seek in the dark workmen's hut
at six p.m. (they never saw their sober fathers).
Coal dust, powdered milk,
greedily-gazing falling rocks,
explosion, loan, silicosis.

Recycling nightmares.
Recycling tapes.
Oh, memory, let me
erase you thoroughly.

A nine-year-old child,
I saw in the dream my dark-faced father return from the mine
and beat up Mother without saying a word.
A seventeen-year-old youth,
he watched confusedly his naked father
weeping secretly by the wall

were you that young child too, when a black umbrella
sent the sister to a faraway hospital
on a stormy night?

Seventy days.
Do you still send painful disease to the distant hospital?
Frail mothers,
aged grandmothers,
crooked ears,
broken vertebras.
Seventy days.
Do you still send tormented souls to the distant badminton court?

We are sticking to the damp and dark rock strata, waiting
to be mined by sunshine.
Uproarious motors, sand bags, pumps.
Flags are swaying involuntarily in the dusky air.
Yu Tian-deng,
the first to run out of the third bypass on the right to inform us.
Yu Tian-deng,
who had four gold teeth in the upper jaw and whose second toe of the right foot was missing.
Have you finally recognized his face,
his bravery,
his stupidity?

Get away from the wound of pain.
Get away from the pit of despair.
Get away from anxiety, sorrow, and waiting.
Get away from paper money for the dead, ashes, and howling.

Let frightened children return to their classrooms.
Let fainting old grandmothers return to their rocking chairs.
Hoes must work.
Bees must smile.

We are waiting here
because the proud crowns wouldn
't shatter their hereditary jewelry.
We are waiting here
because the well-fed cows wouldn
't take off their clothes of cream and balsam.
Pottery makers who are trembling among the clay,
you will know.
Masons who are dozing among knives and stones,
you will know.
Writers who are writing rapidly on manuscript paper.
Congressmen who are urging emphatically before cameras.
We are waiting here
because of our fathers and brothers who are of equally humble birth.
We are waiting here
because of our fellowmen who have no other choice but to believe in fatalism:

Dying streams, black steps.
Hollow rock strata, black temples.
Huge ink ponds, black elegies.
Boiling canyons, black choirs.
Sobbing moon, black bronze mirrors.
Coarse heavy linen, black blinds.
Tangled railroads, black veins.
Burning ore, black dams.

Black windows, eyes of water.
Black grains, spades of water.
Black rings, chains of water.
Black ankles, reins of water.
Black names, dictionaries of water.
Black pulses, pendulums of water.
Black earthen jars, melancholy of water.
Black bedclothes, fury of water.

(Oh, memory, let me erase you thoroughly...)

Seventy days.
Are you asking me about the color of the lawn, the direction
of the setting sun?
The snakily winding Keelung River is vast and imposing.
Flags are flying.
Flags, are flying.
I see your dark thin figures prop up the newly-woven linens
in the evening wind.
I see your tin-white lips, your twinkling teardrops,
so huge and far away,
dripping toward me.

"Chen-man, my dear wife: No news after the departure.
Have you recovered from the cold?
On such a dark stormy night, how can I picture
you, standing before the window wearily,
staying awake from care and looking back at our daughters,
who have just fallen asleep?
It seems to have been a love story ten thousand years ago.
I saw you, a little girl with a bowknot on the hair,
come running to play at our muddy mining neighborhood.
Then I saw you, shy and tall.
Then I saw your furious father
's harsh

A miner's child?!'
Yes, a miner's

It seems to have been a pledge one hundred thousand or one million years ago.
I watched you washing and sewing clothes,
nursing my children and sharing my surname.
But we had never filled up those three milk powder containers
with coins. The night was long.
The sleep got all the narrower for crowdedness.
Maybe we no longer need
any milk powder container.
Things are so expensive,
and you are so weak.

Is A-xue still feeling pain in her shoulders?
've read the letter from Bi-lu. I am
happy to know he is stout and healthy.
After his military service, you can take him to the mine
to see the boss.
The firm will surely offer him a job.

In the pocket of my raincoat there is a pack of lotus seeds I've bought.
Do remember to take it out.
I have left four dry batteries with Uncle Chun-wu.
Lin A-chuan at Ruiju Road owes me one hundred and five dollars.
You may as well get it back from him in your free time.
You can buy a new pair of sneakers for Xiao-hui to wear at the athletic meet.
You should eat more and do less laundry work.
On such a dark stormy night, don
't forget to bolt
all the doors and windows of the house..."


Author's Note:
       On March 21, 1980, a great calamity happened to Yongan ("Eternal Peace") coal mine in Ruefang: enormous amounts of water welled out and developed into violent and rapid currents. There were many miners working in the mine. Ten, including Wang Shu-xian and Wu Huo-tu, had a narrow escape; the other thirty-four, including Wang Mu-qi, Yu Tian-deng, Lu A-xin, Du Wan-lai, Yu Qin-xiang, Shiu Zhao-gi, Zeng Chun-fa, Li Chun-xiong, and Xu Shuei-yuan, unfortunately died at the bottom of the mine. Because of the constantly falling rocks and the difficulty in pumping out water, it was not until May 10 that they found the first dead body that of Yu Tian-deng, who was the first to run out of the third bypass on the right, yet turned back to the third bypass on the left to inform his fellow miners and therefore failed to escape in time.

    The narrator of this poem is Wang Mu-qi, fifty-one years of age, a digging worker of Yongan coal mine. It was reported in the newspaper that his eldest son, Wang Bi-lu, who was serving in the army at Mazu, sent an urgent telegram home to ask if his father was sound and safe, because according to the news report on TV, a miner by the name of "Wang Mu-tu" (a miswritten form of Wang Mu-qi) was on the list of the victims. Besides his wife Wang Chen-man, Wang Mu-qi left behind him six daughters and a son, who were all under age and the youngest of whom was still studying in primary school.


Books of Poems by 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     New Poems     Microcosmos II 

  Introduction to Chen Li's Poetry

  by  Chang Fen-ling