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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    The Olympic

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
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.

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 about 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.






The Olympic
Ars Poetica 

Festive, competitive, and of five rings… 

Of words and words. Vaulting over the secular
level, with pens as poles. Creating new
aesthetics. (The definitions of pens were expanded
at several conferences of judges at the turn of the century, and
it was agreed that finding in poems stimulants other than 

inspiration was acceptable.) Take this poem
for example. Its title, "The Olympic"
(or "The Olympian"), is copied from the last line
of another poem of mine, having nothing to do
with inspiration. Even the form looks the same. 

Words race with words: a relay race. You can’t see
the baton passed or received. Straight smoke
above vast desert, round setting sun on long river, most
touching is the occasional bursting out (I miss you
near the end of every stanza) of the pure joy 

of poetry. Pure joy, game of the pairs: big robber; merry
widow; reed organ; green sleeves; autumn floods; Emanuel Kant.
Or in threes and fours: the dark eyes; lonely hearts club;
Where the bees suck; store of furniture; the Island Formosa; Shoot
the Piano Player; standing in the wind. Words in the wind,  

standing, running, shooting, grow to time, like a clown. Gentle wind
brings a small response, violent wind a great one. Let the craft drift over the
boundless expanse, and in whirling confusion, make the words sound together,
become harmonious, pure and clear, endlessly echoing—dignified and venerated,
enjoying themselves—a milieu which is festive, competitive, and of five rings…

Translator's note:
 "Straight smoke above vast desert, / round setting sun on long river"
 (大漠孤煙直,長河落日圓) are
famous lines of the Chinese Tang Dynasty poet Wang Wei (701-761).
"Where the bees suck" are the opening words of a song in Shakespeare's Tempest.
 "Shoot the Piano Player" ("Tirez sur le pianiste") is the name of one of Truffaut's films.
"Gentle wind brings a small response, violent wind a great one"
 (泠風則小和,飄風則大和) are words
written by the ancient Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu (369?-286? B.C.).
 "Let the craft drift over the boundless expanse"
(縱一葦之所如,凌萬頃之茫然) are words
taken from a well-known prose poem of the Chinese Song Dynasty poet Su Tong-po (1036-1101).






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.






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 it with your sweet familial love,
fill it with your pure water of ethics and morality,
fill it with 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.






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.






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.






A Lesson in Ventriloquy


Hong Chung-Kun  /  Poem, Chen Li   ↑




Translator's Note:

      Read for the first time, the poem may strike one as no more than a language game, a game that is likely to have been inspired and made possible by Chinese computer software (which allows one to punch in a romanized Chinese word and get a long list of homonymous characters in varying tones). Lines 1-2 put together thirty-six different characters with the "u" sound in the fourth tone, which are mirror-imaged in lines 4-5. The long catalog of characters is broken up only by the inserted parenthesized line in italics: "I am gentle..." In the second stanza, there are forty-four characters with the "o" sound in the fourth tone. Parallel to the first stanza, the two sets of characters here also form a mirror image of each other. The parenthesized, italicized line 12 completes the sentence, which begins in fragments lines 3 and 6: "I am gentle...I am gentle...and kind..."  

        What are we to make of this? First of all, we note the sharp contrast in typography. Lines 1-2, 4-5, and 7-11 form a rectangular block respectively, with a small corner of the third rectangle cut off by a single parenthesis in line 11. In terms of size, these rectangles take up much more space and look much larger and heavier than the parenthesized lines, which are less than one-third of the rectangles. Secondly, the rectangles and the parenthesized lines have different typefaces.  Also in terms of form, there is perfect symmetry between lines 1-2 and lines 4-5, and almost perfect symmetry between lines 7-8-9½ and 9½-10-11. Symmetry is conspicuously absent in the parenthesized lines; in fact the poet uses several devices to avoid formal symmetry in these fragments, including using an odd rather than even number of lines, the repetition of "I am gentle..." twice in contrast to the one "and kind...," thus creating a 2-1 asymmetry in the complete sentence with lines 3, 6, and 12. All the line numbers with regard to the sentence are also multiples of three, another odd number. Finally, there are the asymmetrical punctuation marks and the odd position of the parenthesis at the end of line 11.

In addition to form, there is a most dramatic contrast in sound. Whereas "u" and "o" are both fourth tone, reading thirty-six u's and forty-four o's in a row creates a hard, monotonous, unnatural sound effect. (Can we imagine what it’d be like if the poem was read out loud at a poetry reading?) In contrast to the long strings of heavy sounds, the short sentence consisting of a few simple, mono- or bi-syllabic words, with an undulating cadence (with a fair distribution of all four tones), sound so much lighter, softer, more melodious and pleasant. 

        Further, in terms of syntax, the thirty-six u's and forty-four o's do not form a phrase or unified image, much less a meaningful sentence. In fact, if we examine these characters, most of them are obscure words hardly ever used in daily speech or even in writing. Grouped together in this particular typographical arrangement, they create an extreme effect of defamiliarization: for a Chinese reader, although she may recognize all the words, they look strange on the page. In contrast, although the words in the parentheses are small in number, they form a complete sentence, with the subject "I," the copula "am," and the predicate "gentle and kind," consisting of two adjectives combined with a conjunctive "and." Despite its minimalist syntactic structure, the sentence is a perfect sentence. 

        Finally, we note the semantic structure of the poem. The first word of both stanzas is the same character with two different pronunciations ( "u" and "o") and meanings ("to loathe or dislike" and "evil"). Both words, however, have negative connotations. The contrast between them and the words in parentheses— "gentle" and "kind"— is obvious. 

        Why is the poem called "A Lesson in Ventriloquy"? As the art of speaking without opening the mouth, ventriloquy connotes a discrepancy between appearance and reality, between outer form and inner substance, between "what you see" and "what you hear." Discrepancy clearly exists between the "u" and "o" sounds and the parenthesized sentence in the poem. Although the former presents an unpleasing appearance, the latter reveals the heart, which is gentle and kind.






A Weightlifting Lesson


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

Hear Chen Li reading the poem      See animation of the poem  

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

1  Starry Night




2  Wind Blowing over the Plain





3  Footprints in the Snow

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
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].









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 terror,
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 laughter.
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.






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 springs
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?

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








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,
an eye for an eye, a

tooth for a tooth, circling
in nothingness, the
lonely hedgehogs that
rub each other's
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 mystic
ecstatic starlight
of 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.








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 country
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, banishment, 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.

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 country"
and "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" (可染) 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 my wish to mix my blood, urine,
and excrement with this land.
Exchange fifteen bolts of cloth for land as large as a cowhide?
The aborigines 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 India 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 their Dutch
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 the Lord’s Prayer, the Gospel, the Ten Commandments,
and grace 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
that 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 land,
the Lord’s nation, cut into strips of twenty-five ges,
which length squared forms one morgen, and then three and four zhanglis.
In Zeelandia, between the public measurement office, the 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 myriad
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 lovemaking 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 have been taught to read and write (oh, I
taste in the Bible in romanized aboriginal languages
a taste of venison flavored with European ginger).      
Ecclesiastes in Favorlang, the Gospel According to Matthew in Sideia,
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, although those Chinese troops are approaching
on junks and sampans with large axes and knives
attempting to cover us with an even bigger
cowhide. God has granted my wish to mix my blood,
urine, and excrement with the aborigines’
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, smells
and as broad as God’s spirit.

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



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