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 Selected Poems of
Chen Li

New Poems

In the Corners of Our Lives    Aria on the Coast    Kubla Khan (Chang) + (Patton)

Foil Carton    Photo of Egyptian Scenery in the Dream of a Fire Department Captain 

Reading Huang Ting-Jian at the Turn of the Century    Wooden Fish Ballad    Butterfly-Mad  

 • Little Deaths    The Tongue    On the Train, Tied Up in Two Knots    • Night Song    • Autumn Sonata

    • A Cappella    On the Island—based on Yami myths    • Poem Gained in Dream at a Hotel in Winter   

Light Cavalier    Adagio    Work    Song of the Insomnia Girl    Song of the Somnambulist Girl

   Slow City    • Typhoons    • White    • Sinckan, 1660    •
The Guts of the Tribe    

 • Pian Pian    • 18 Touches    • Pilgrim    • Saint Antony Preaching to the Fish    

    • Saint in the Kitchen     • The North     • Beijing     • Hualien


In the Corners of Our Lives

 In the corners of our lives live many poems.
They may not have reported to the domiciliary registration office
or received doorplate numbers from the district office or police station.
Walking out of the alley, you bump into a jogger speaking on the cell phone.
His embarrassed smile reminds you of the aged doctor who polishes his
young wife's red sports car in front of the house every night.

You realize then
that they are two sections of a long poem.

Objects are
known to each other, but not necessarily on visiting terms.
Some float up to become images, courting and showing affection
for others. Sound and smell usually conspire first, flirting with each other
on the sly. Colors are the coy little sisters who must stay home,
get set the curtain, sheet, bathrobe and tablecloth, wait for their master to return, and turn on
the lights. A poem, like a home, is a sweet burden

love, lust, pain and sorrow, taking in the good and the bad.

They needn't go to the health center to be sterilized or to buy condoms
although they do have their own ethics and family planning.
Couples of well-matched family backgrounds do not
always make the best matches.
 can mix well with milk, but it can also be mated with fire.
Whitehead eats black-boned chicken; black-headed flies debate over
whether or not a white horse is a horse. Tender violence.
Deafening silence.

Incestuous love is
the poet's license.

Some of them choose to live in the shadow of metaphor or woods of symbols.
Some are broad-minded and optimistic, like sunny spiders climbing here and there. Some
enjoy living outdoors, talking
 idly and having intercourse; others, like invisible gauze,
are scattered in your brain, which is divided into many small suites for rent, from time to time
switching on the spinning wheel of dream or subconsciousness.
Many poems are said to b
e imprisoned in the room of habit. In quest of lines you
the door, overturn boxes and cupboards, call out desperately, and even ride an electronic
drive the mouse and pound the keys. You open the window
to the big wide world, and surprisingly, there they are:
Irises after the rain. A flock of gulls
on their way home from school. Slanting
waves of the ocean.
The microwave oven boiling tomato soup with
 slices of bean curd.
It occurs to you to buy some peas. You go to the supermarket and see
You take one can casually and find what you've been racking
your brains for
owes its presence to its very absence:

cancancancancancancancan      cancancancancancancancan
A persimmon lies solitarily on the counter. You say,

how fantastic, a persimmon lies solitarily on the counter.
A line of words forms a family in itself.

You can't help suspecting it was immigrated from Japan, or from the High Tang,
when quatrains were flourishing.

But you don't mind at all. You don't mind at all that they'll all fit into
a small shopping bag.


Translated by Chang Fen-ling   




Aria on the Coast 

At that time our memories of the ocean were as plentiful as the grains of sand on the beach. Walking down
the dike along the southern coast, we became ants and it took a long long long long time to get to the sea.
What a spacious beach, you said. You saw the coast surrounding, with a beautiful dream-like curve, the small
town where you grew up. You were merely a child of the size of an ant, and how sweet the beach of cube sugar
and crude sugar was! That blue ocean was definitely a blue cake, but you were not sure of its flavor or
ingredients, because every day it rolled out different shades of blue and different looks. God's cookbook
was bigger than the ocean, and the number of its recipes for cakes was larger than that of the sand on the
beach. Those whitened waves were, of course, God's saliva. Every day you longed to move some back home
stealthily, but you weren't able to, because such sweetness was too heavy a burden. Leave it there on the coast,
you said—a public cake permanently mouth-watering to God, to human beings, and to you, who were as tiny as an ant.

Translated by Chang Fen-ling   





Kubla Khan

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
a giant, mobile
pleasure-dome decree.
"I don't want fixed things. I am tired of
those regular rooms, of concubines who use the same perfume,
give the same moaning after standard procedures
though there are thousands of them..."
Picking and calculating carefully, his Italian counselor, good at business administration,
arranged and combined those concubines into teams of six, three, or five;
three nights at a time, in different directions, in different formations,
they served their emperor by turns.

Fine wine, opium, honey, leather whips,
globes, vibrators, the Bible, sex-appealing underwear.
"I'll ceaselessly move, ceaselessly feel excited, ceaselessly conquer,
ceaselessly reach the orgasm..."

But this is not a question of math,
not a question of military affairs, not even a question of medicine.

"This is a question of philosophy."
Outside the palace, the ignored Persian traveler said,
"Time is the best aphrodisiac
that fosters changes."

Translated by Chang Fen-ling   




   Kubla Khan  (Patton) 

in Xanadu did Kubla Khan
a vast, mobile pleasure-dome decree
"I don't want anything fixed. Although I've got hundreds and
  thousands of imperial concubines
I'm sick and tired of them
installed in their fixed apartments, using their fixed perfumes
moaning after going through the fixed formulas…"
his Italian consultant, an adept in the field of business management,
  made careful selections, devised meticulous
dividing these damsels into various groupings, either groups of six or
  teams of three or four or five
three nights at a time, adopting different positions and a variety of
they took turns to minister to their lord
fine wines, opium, honey, leather whips
terrestrial globes, vibrators, sacred texts, kinky lingerie
"I want constant motion, constant stimulation, constant conquest,
constant orgasm..."
but this was in no sense a mathematical problem
nor a military one, not even a medical one
outside the dome a Persian traveller who had been overlooked for
  the important job said,
"This is a philosophical issue.
Time is the best aphrodisiac
for the conception of change"


 Translated by Simon Patton  





Foil Carton

drink me
drink my blood
drink my milk
drink the saliva from my mouth
drink the juices of my body
drink the fluids of my love
drink my spasms my convulsions
drink my infidelity 

before the use-by date expires
(for date of manufacture, see bottom of c

 Translated by Simon Patton  






Photo of Egyptian Scenery in the Dream of
a Fire Department Captain



Translated by Chang Fen-ling  






Reading Huang Ting-Jian
at the Turn of the Century

The old century will soon be over. Thumbing through
your poems is like visiting a newly-opened store selling
exquisite articles, on whose upstairs they also engage in
plastic surgery, organ donating and transplanting.

Turn iron into gold; get disembodied and transformed:
the tremendously huge sign scares away those
customary consumers. They say: is it possible for poetry
to function as alchemy or surgical operations?
They don't know surgery also takes a tender heart.
Writing is an art of mental exertion. Poets rewrite
the footprints that time has left on water, carve out
new stanzas of verse, without leaving any scars.
They say you are a thief, transforming the stolen
chocolate into Goodyear tires, tumbling and
galloping on the imaginary candy wrapping paper where the boat
is moored 300 km away, and dreams bring it an inch away.
How can we eat the candy of Tang Dynasty only? you said.
They say candy wrapping paper is formalism
and that you the foremost of all evil thinkers, a shrewd
plagiarist, a wicked-looking collage and parody player.
So, I can call you a post-modernist far back in
ancient China? Your French kinsman
Duchamp moved an upright urinal into
the exhibition hall, saying it was a "fountain."
If your "raining in the night by the lake" were twisted
into "leaking in the night urinal," it could also turn out
to be a lamp blazing throughout the history, couldn't it ?
The guy Chen Wu-ji you mentioned in your poem, who shut
his door looking for words, is actually the incarnation of me:
the boat bound for your dream, with nine hundred years
in between,            
                                           sails every half minute.

Author's note:
Huang Ting-jian (1045-1105), a Chinese poet of Sung Dynasty. "Writing is an art of mental exertion," "The boat is moored 300 km away, and dreams bring it an inch away,"
"raining in the night by the lake," and "Chen Wu-ji who shut his door looking for words" are lines taken from Huang Ting-jian's poems.
Chen Wu-ji was Huang Ting-jian's fellow poet and friend. He often stayed in his room, waiting for inspiration and racking his brains for good poems.

Translated by Chang Fen-ling  





Wooden Fish Ballad 

This is the seventh autumn visiting here

cool wind as usual; autumn typhoons merciless

My feelings missing you are like the flooded

MRT system, with no trains

and so nowhere to go

I am stranded in memories of the past deeper

than the flood in this city

picturing you glancing at the Hello Kitties caught in the twilight by the window

I am in silent contemplation at the computer desk

as the new ring tone just set on the cell phone

rings like birds chirping, and the newsbar on the TV rolls:

Airport closed, transport cut off by land and air

All these add to my sorrow and annoyance in missing you


The old testament is hard to break. What I have is a coverless

wordless Bible, carrying last night’s wet dream

and leaking from upstairs like an ever-turning waterwheel

dripping on my heart

All wet, every page of scripture about ecstasy of fish and water

poetry and music, our sacred swimming pool


My shining silver-scaled swimming choir

tapped out in rows from electronic wooden fish

pass through the flooded city, through spongy-wrinkly

moonbeams, to swim onto your computer screen


I know how to recall and narrate the merry hours

I remember the day we first met at the theater

I was a wretched and penniless traveler

yet you showed me affection, because of

an unaccompanied aria composed of meaningless vowels

You kept me company by the hotel bedside lamp, inquiring about

the story in the song. I told you the romantic tale

behind “The Traveler’s Autumn Rue,” about

Miu Lianxian, how his memory of songstress Mai Qiujuan

left him remorseful on his journey, turned days into years

writing poems, lost in reminiscence, looking for outlets for his sorrow


After hearing my story, you sighed and said,

“Your story was really us, how memory

breeds music and images for poetry to recite

how you, a poet, courted me, singing

similar yet different themes

with subtly varied postures and tones; I

was a songbird whose mission

was to sing, but before poetry, a more

melodious songbird,

I choose silence in response to voices”

You said my words were pearls, creating

pricelessness out of nothing. I knew you not only saw my talent but

felt no contempt for poverty. My only possession: fabrication


Oh, loveliest of lovers, your attentive listening is

itself singing. I write because you are here

You are not a songbird; you are every singing

and non-singing bird: robin, bluebird, red falcon,

sandpiper, snow-owl, swift…

You are music incarnate

existing prior to poetry. Attracting poetry, accepting poetry,

you are the scaffolding for words gone lost

my journey’s lodging house, and in the aquarium of your screen

my shining silver-scaled swimming choir and chanting team


 Author's note:
Wooden fish ballad" is a form of oral literature popular in the province of Guangdong, China.
Wooden fish is a wooden percussion instrument used to keep time and rhythm in chanting or singing.
"The Traveler's Autumn Rue" is one of the most famous in the repertoire of wooden fish ballads.
I know how to recall the merry hours" is a translation of a line from Baudelaire's poem "Le balcon."

Translated by Chang Fen-ling  







That girl was walking toward
me like a butterfly. Steadily she
seated herself right in front of the lectern
in her hair was a gaily-colored
hair pin, a butterfly on a butterfly
For twenty years in this
seashore junior high, how many butterflies
have I seen, human-shaped, butterfly-shaped,
carrying youth, carrying dreams, flut-
tering into my classroom?
Oh, Lolita
That autumn day before noon, the
sun so warm, a dazzling yellow butterfly
entered through the window, circling between
the distracted teacher and the 13-year-old
girl concentrating on her lessons
Suddenly she rose, to evade
the scissor-like glittering colors
and shapes, a butterfly scared of butterflies:
ah, she was startled by a butterfly
and I confounded by

Translator's note:

This poem is shaped like a butterfly (or several butterflies).


Translated by Chang Fen-ling







Little Deaths
—based on Jiri Kylian's dance title

Under the wind's quilt, each day
little deaths

 Under the quilt's waves, you and I
brandish a sword of nothingness 

A sword stabs into the body
to kill you, kill me 

A sword stabs into the heart
to kill time, to utterly kill time

Where the tip of the sword points, little
orgasms belong to the quilt
Where the flashing sword passes, little
triumphant shouts and sobs
Little deaths make us
gradually accustomed to the humble triviality of living
Little conquests and surrenders
where neither enemy nor allied troops are on time's plain
Killers and instigators to the other
Assassins and pilgrims to the other
In the lifelong, indolent process of living,
process of dying, indolently
Inverting the sword handle into a pendulum, each day
little vibrations, little deaths

Translated by Arthur Sze  






The Tongue 

I left a segment of my tongue in her pencil box. Consequently, every time she opened it to write a letter to her
 new lover, she would hear my mumbling words, which were like a line of scribbles, chafing among commas with
 the movement of her newly sharpened pencil. Then she would stop writing, not knowing it was my voice. She
thought that I, who had never spoken to her since we last met, had kept silent for good. She wrote another line,
finding the Chinese character
(love), which consisted of so many strokes, was carelessly written. She
handily picked up my tongue. Mistaking it for an eraser, she rubbed it forcefully on the paper, leaving a
considerable drop of blood on the spot where the character

Translated by Chang Fen-ling  






On the Train, Tied Up in Two Knots

 On the Train, Tied Up in "Two Knots," the conductor announces: "Due to an influx of wildflowers and
shamelessly invasive verdure on the tracks ahead, we will be temporarily delayed. In the interest of
safety, all passengers must remain on the train." A group of bow-tied Rotarians bound for their annual
convention who were sitting in the first car exchange anxious glances until a blue butterfly flutters in
through a bathroom ventilation window and lures the black "butterfly" perched on the Adam's apple of
group leader Wang in seat No. 5, whereupon all the Rotarians flee from the train as if they had just been
granted a general pardon. Next we come to the vacationing stock analysts in Car No. 2, gripping their
laptops, which they are keying as they converse on their cellular phones. Then we arrive at the straightlaced
 structuralist in Car No. 3, followed by his pet elephant, rhino, pre-ovulating eel, and laboratory maze mouse.
Finally, we come to Ah-Gim, the widow sitting in the last seat of the last car, who had had her tubes tied
some twenty years ago but has since lost her only son; she scurries off as if she's only just been awakened,
which leaves just the tongue-tied conductor muttering into his radiophone: "On the...train...tied
'Two Knots'... we've...just been...robbed...of the...sights and...sounds of...spring..."      

Translated by Steve Bradbury  





Night Song

 By the mailbox on the street corner
I stop my car, turn off the engine, and doze for a while.
In front are glimmering traffic lights;
the sea we know well is at a short distance.
I doze on the street waiting for my daughter
to walk out of the piano room of the college after her lesson.
When I left home, my VCR was recording
Mahler's Song of the Night. The laborious
long day will be rewound and repeated tomorrow.
Several mosquitoes fly into the car
biting an exhausted human body in the dark :
the mosquitoes of Hualien biting this native
of Hualien is like the tide biting at the beach
leaving temporary marks.
Like music streaming through the sky
and disappearing soon after, we cannot tell
which part is Mahler's, and which part
the plow song, which part is this life
of ours, and which the afterlife of others.

The sea we are familiar with is a giant package
which is packed with our dreams, with
music boxes scattered on the beach like shells
and repeatedly delivers itself at the same spot.
The mailer's address is the receiver's.
My body, stamped by mosquitoes,
is a package in a package, hidden in the car
box and awaiting the sea wind not far away
to blow it into the mailbox on the street corner.

Translated by Chang Fen-ling  






Autumn Sonata

 It's getting cold. Wearing one more garment,
you feel too hot; taking one off,
you feel too cold. So it is with two lovers
living together for too many years.
To love or not to love
doesn't seem right.
The house is less crowded;
There is as much furniture and music.
the heart is none the smaller.
You have nothing to hide
or defend, except the right-of-way
in the night over the path to dreams.
In the mirror still hangs the red trunks
you wear on the summer beach.
What is found on the slope may
be the medicine mine, not the gold mine.
Something is yet
to be excavated, or prospected,
such as ethics, the transparent vest
woven and patched again
and again (to wear or
not to wear doesn't seem right),
such as understanding, the coal
used as fuel or pigment:
to be spread in the darker night
to turn darkness into light.

Translated by Chang Fen-ling  





A Cappella

          Behind the vast ocean       bluish songs of the whales
        Midnight troops review       someone on the cliff amazed at God's wonder
      Running hand of lightning       love e-mail with no address to reply to
        Tablecloths of the blind       birds' chirps downloaded after the rainstorm
   Pomegranates of memories      neon sopranos bursting in the dark
                   Scents of fleeing      arias from noses of clowns with broken tongues     
                  Caressing ripples      naked wind tangoing with the pond in early spring
                          Purple stars      shaped verse given to humans by the merciful universe

Translated by Chang Fen-ling  





On the Island 
—based on Yami myths

The island is by the sea, and the sea by the island
Our island is a tiny, motionless ship

Tsunami turned the ship into a cradle
The waves dashed toward the mountaintop, splitting the giant rock
Out of the rock I popped
I am man, I am Tau
I am a man

Tsunami turned the ship into a cradle
The waves tumbled over reefs, splitting bamboo woods
Out of the bamboo I popped
I am man, I am Tau
I am a man

We were the first two on board
We were men having no women to love and
loved by no women

We rested on the ship, slept on the ship
On the knees we twined our exceedingly long penises

We gently swung our knees, sleeping foot to foot
Our knees touched comfortably, getting all the itchier with every touch

We scratched each other thoughtfully
With each scratch came a greater itch
until a man burst out of my right knee
(oh Tau, a man)
until a woman burst out of my left knee
(oh Tau, a man)

They are the Taus
Fulfillment of love between two men

The island is by the sea, and the sea by the island
Our island is a tiny, motionless ship
But Mama, our sky is so low
Our deck is so high
That fire ball, with wide open eyes
is hanging above our heads, burning hot

Please ask the next-door Uncle Giant to stretch his arms and legs
kicking the ground down, and upholding the sky
I will use my fish-spearing lance
to shoot blind one eye of the two-eyed fire ball, thus dividing it
into two: the half hanging in the sky will be
the sun, and the other half left to the night to accompany us in sleep
will be the moon

Behold, the moon is risen
So gentle is it, like
a bashful lily
From the depth of the evening sky, my lance slowly drops back
The fish I speared yesterday clings to the sky
becoming a milky way

Translator's note:
The Yami (also called the Tau) tribe are aboriginal people of Taiwan living on the Orchid Island,
which lies to the southeast of the island of Taiwan. "Tau" means "man" in the Yami language.

Translated by Chang Fen-ling  





Poem Gained in Dream at a Hotel in Winter

 The white hotel took me in on a winter night
just as an aluminum pot accepts a grain of rice,
washing its body with sufficient hot water,
warming and steaming it with the heat of quilt
until it becomes a self-contented grain in the

pot of rice of the soundly sleeping world.

Someone (God maybe?) slightly opened the cover
of the pot. I felt the good smell of rice brimming
over the dream, and I saw in my dream a poem
forming, written on the wall of the white hotel, or
on me. It was obviously not a modern eight-line or
four-line verse with meters and rhymes (I wondered
how come a tiny rice grain could contain so many words).
It was a poem that had never been written before,
a brand-new poem without any device of rhyme
or metrics. The imagery in the poem was vivid
and charming; not only was it very musical but it
gave forth sweet taste and smell from time to time.
It was about love, about solitude, about
time, and beauty (oh, it was virtually
a great and perfect poem one could
expect only in dream ). I dared not

believe that was my own work—
so original, so wonderful. I thought
it was written by some fellow poet more talented
than I since Li Po and Du Fu. I was
reluctant to write it down at first purely
out of my jealousy. I left it suspended in
my dream. As I savored it and surmised its
technique and grandeur, I grew embittered
secretly. How I wish this poem had never
been written. When I suddenly realized I was
the author of my own dream and that the poem
might have been written by me, and got anxious
to memorize it, the pot cover of the dream had been
completely lifted. I remembered not very clearly
the atmosphere and ideas about it; as regards 
the concrete text, there was not a single word
I could recall. I was a waking grain
of rice, naked, chilly, in the bed of
the white hotel, feeling a kind of pure
blankness, empty fullness: just like
that poem in the dream, gained and then lost.

Translated by Chang Fen-ling  






Light Cavalier

I suddenly realize this world is actually a small motorcycle-renting station which all gods operate and manage
 in partnership. Every one of us is a
light-duty motorcycle, hardly occupying any space or time though our luggage
 is extremely heavy. Our souls ride our bodies, lightly crossing the concave and the convex: mountains and valleys,
tall buildings and low fields, cunts and cocks, days and nights. Like a sheet of gauze caressing the shallow skin,
 like a breeze blowing over the thin water surface, we lightly and slightly
give the world between legs a botanical,
 zoological, mineral, pet-natured, spiritual, physical, religious, philosophical, serious, entertaining, commercial,
academic, structural, theoretical, clinical "
one-time" harassment. Hello, dear climate, I'll carry your thick blessings
 and bondage. Hello, dear teachers, I'll carry your thick instruction and repentance. Hello, dear Grandmas, I'll carry
your thick footbinding cloths and telephone directories. Hello, dear
voyeurs, I'll carry your thick-skinned faces and
 eyelids. I'll carry all of these passing through the map of shadow whose longitude is so heavy and speed so light,
passing through the globe of light where the beds of seas and skies are so heavy and blue so light. In the noise of
 the engine which is getting lighter and lighter, I'll carry you into gradually lightening light metal, light industry,
light music, light civilization, light morality, light death, light immortality

Translated by Chang Fen-ling  







Grandma sitting by the window
(she was seventeen
then, she says)
waiting for the distant clouds
to move slowly to the mountaintop
and become her hair in the mirror
A cat walks across the lawn
(so can a pig
but not now)
knocks over the rattan chair
she often sits on
in the middle of the lawn
She turns on the radio
to listen to reports of snowfall 
but the grass is so green
Suddenly she craves
vanilla ice cream
The bread tree stands at the end
of the lawn the whole afternoon
not moving one bit
The Oriental sesame flower stands   
at the other end of the lawn
chit-chatting with her sisters
Grandma thinks to herself
the silent tree is poetry
so is the talking flower 
She raises her head and sees me
with a backpack of books cross
the lawn, set the rattan chair on its feet
open the door, enter the house, and see

Grandma sitting by the window
(she was seventeen
then, she says)
waiting for the distant clouds
to move slowly to the mountaintop
and become her hair in the mirror
A cat walks across the lawn
(so can a pig
but not now)
knocks over the rattan chair
she often sits on
in the middle of the lawn
She turns on the radio
to listen to reports of snowfall 
but the grass is so green
Suddenly she craves
vanilla ice cream
The bread tree stands at the end
of the lawn the whole afternoon
not moving one bit
The Oriental sesame flower stands   
at the other end of the lawn
chit-chatting with her sisters
Grandma thinks to herself
the silent tree is poetry
so is the talking flower 
She raises her head and sees me
with a backpack of books cross
the lawn, set the rattan chair on its feet
open the door, enter the house, and see

Translated by Michelle Yeh  







Because he told her, "I enjoy work the most," she dreamed she became "work." For years she had wanted to
be near him, to possess him, but seemed unable to occupy his mind and body entirely for any length of time.
 Finally her wish came true when she dreamed she became "work," a word on a small scrap of paper he put in
 his wallet, in his left pant's pocket. She lay back contentedly, feeling his body, especially his lower body, becoming
aroused, excited, fatigued, subdued, as he walked, talked, worked, rested during the day—even as he flirted with
 his clients. She had never felt so utterly close to him.
"Ah, how wonderful 'work' is!" In her dream she smiled
and fell asleep.

Translated by Michelle Yeh  






Song of the Insomnia Girl

All night long, my family

and my neighbors snore like a river

flowing through my brain.

My brain is a buzzing humidity reducing set

dripping, after long whiles, one drop of water after another

into the empty tank of my dreams.

I pour the brimming water into the river.

The whole world's snores gush over to scramble for it,

converging to form a vast ocean before me.

My gaze dives deep into the ocean,

yet I remain sitting on the coast.

Below my feet, the dandruff of

dreams piles up like sand.

Translated by Chang Fen-ling  






Song of the Somnambulist Girl

I am asleep, not knowing I've fallen asleep.
I am alive, not knowing life is like a dream.


I'm strolling the earth with eyes closed, not knowing

I'm walking on the eggshell.

The slippery cliffs of dream on all sides

are seducing me to smash into pieces.

I walk to my lover's bedside,

spread toothpaste on a toothbrush to shine his shoes,

getting ready for the trip of our pledge.

He's asleep, not knowing our long night invites bad dreams.


I walk to the window of my rival in love,

sealing her curtain, cutting the throat of

her cock, wringing off the spring of her alarm clock.

I wish her a never-waking sleep, a never-ending night.


I am alive, yet I don't want to live quietly.

I am asleep, yet I don't want to thus fall asleep.

Translated by Chang Fen-ling 






Slow City

The mountains are slow.
The wind is slow.
The calisthenics exercise clouds take is slow.
The woodpecker types slow.
The time when bread falls off the bread tree comes slow.
The sea draws out tissue paper quick.
The train is slow.
The newspaper is slow.
The bank robber pulls out his gun slow.
The party alternation in power is slow.
The department store opens slow.
The news of Auntie Ah-Ching taking a bath with windows open spreads quick.
The afternoon is slow.
The light is slow.
The philosopher eats bean-curd jelly slow.
The snow's on-line connection is slow.
The expiry date of dream arrives slow.
Happiness is sorted and recycled quick.


Translated by Chang Fen-ling  






Typhoons, huge bags
kind-hearted spirits air-drop to mankind,
tossing to us
leaflets with various colors,
messages with mixed flavors.


So close to heaven,
they know God never forgets
to give mankind tests.
They strive to get us a day off
for us to be free from everything,
for them to guess what may be in the test
and to help us review all the lessons.


The whole night they repeatedly point out
the main points to us, who stay up,
by pounding on the house, by shaking the windows
in a dramatic tone.
They even pull up the street trees by the roots, scatter
signs, cut off electric power,
leaving marks everywhere as warnings
to teach us not to fall into God's traps.
They don't even let slip a few scores.
With leaking traces like dotted lines
they add notes on the wall for us.


They want us to remember what was learned in childhood:
overflowed embankments,
drowned tables and beds,
to remember the junior high companion gone suddenly
while playing in the water on a glorious summer afternoon,
to remember, later on,
sleepless nights
due to ecstasy of love,
to remember, later on,
sleepless nights
due to agony of love.


they take stock for us, calculating
what we have had and lost,
which mistakes were made time after time and should never be repeated,
which blessings are sure to be grasped and should never be ignored,
over and over again, the tests
God gives us.


Friendly balloons,

soap bubbles,

blowing gently, blowing hard:
learning passports distributed here and there,
advertisements of life.

Translated by Chang Fen-ling  







Translator's Note:
the Chinese character "" = "white";
Chinese character "" = "day"


Translated by Chang Fen-ling





Sinckan, 1660

Tiladam Tuaka's Rain-Praying Ritual

Before coming to me, you must abstain from meat and pleasure,
look out for dreams and birds' chirping. Women must
piously set iron knives, mow weeds, put into baskets
hats to wear, tiny pottery jars, bangles for wrists
and for arms, praying to the ancestral spirit for blessings. Men must
offer millet wine, steamed rice, betel nuts, betel leaves,
and pork, pray that your knives, arrows, and spears are sharp,
and then bring along your wine, cheering loudly
at me. I
Tiladam Tuaka
exorcist-priestess of our Siraya tribe, daughter
of the ancestral spirit, the real baptist who re-cleanses and re-baptizes
your bodies and hearts after your baptism by the red-haired priest.
Offer wine! Raise a huge jar of wine with both of your hands,
otherwise the ancestral spirit won't drink it! Very soon the ancestral spirit 
will lead me to heaven through a ladder of light,
a heavenly ladder only for the naked one stripped to the skin
to stand fast against it and move upward step by step.
Offer me wine, look at the glittering upper half of my body,
the glittering lower half of my body, look at my private part,
which is standing open like a fountain on the roof of the konkai.
Your pork has satiated and pleased the ancestral spirits' appetite.
Now they are thirsty; they want me to urinate as a sow does,
pissing all the wine I have drunk. The ancestral spirit says
if I discharge a mountain of urine, he will reward us with
a mountain of rain; if I discharge an ocean of urine,
he will reward us with an ocean of rain. Now give me wine,
give me wine to drink, so that a urine mountain and a urine ocean
may bring us a plentiful year. My fountain is an automatic
wine shaker, a drink vending machine, which gives the nectar
to the ancestral spirit and to you, erupts one string after another of
water fireworks. Watch my private part,
such a public one-man orchestra, generous and divine.
See how it plays various kinds of fabulous music with the touching,
patting, thrusting in, and twitching of my fingers. Groan
with my groans; scream with my screams.
You too shall go naked, mounting the bare heavenly ladder
with me to reach the lip, the tongue of the ancestral spirit as well as
the nose, the forehead, the brain of the ancestral spirit, like a
giant tree with clusters of branches spurting out of the top
of the ancestral spirit's head: collective ecstasy, collective
orgasm. Lying on the roof, I am as plentiful and substantial as
a mountain and an ocean. Now carry me down to
the konkai, make me drink more wine and discharge more
urine. Strip your hearts of the last pieces of cloth which cover
vaginas and penises, and go back with soaking wet
hearts to commit adultery with your sisters,
daughters, brothers, neighbors, passers-by, to have
intercourses with them and drink wine from door to door till dawn,
so as to bring us rain for a plentiful year. I know
they will exile me to Tirosen, to
Batavia. But I will come back. Whenever
the heavy rain pours down, you'll see me come back...

 Author's note:
In the 17th century, Sinckan was among the four major settlements of the Siraya people of the Taiwanese aborigines.
 It is now located in Xinshi of Tainan. The Sinckan settlement was the area in Taiwan which got the earliest access to the Western culture.
 In 1626, the Dutch people built churches and started preaching in Sinckan. They also wrote the aboriginal language in Romanization.
In May, 1636, the first school in Sinckan was established. Nearly 70 boys and 60 girls went to school.
In October, 1639, the Dutch official Van der Burg wrote a report to his governor, mentioning the Sinckan settlement
 had a population of 1047, that all men, women, and children were baptized, and that 119 couples held Christian weddings.
 However, the truth was that Siraya's traditional religion and customs were still deeply rooted in people's lives. The Dutch geographer
Olfert Dapper in his book Gedenkwaerdig bedryf der Nederlandsche Oost-Indische Maetschappye, op de Kuste en in het Keizerrijk van Tasing of Sina
(published in 1670) wrote, based on the descriptions of a Scot named David Wright, about some annual Siraya festivals.
Among them was Tiladam Tuaka's Rain-Praying Ritual, which this poem deals with. Dapper said Wright stayed in Taiwan
for several years until 1662, when the Dutch withdrew from Taiwan.

"The red-haired priest" refers to the Dutch missionary,
and Konkai is the public activity center of the Siraya people.

Translated by Chang Fen-ling






The Guts of the Tribe

Night Rite in Xiaolin Village, 2009

The urine accumulated for three hundred years by the witches
erupted overnight. Tiladam Tuaka was back.
Tiladam Tuaka
the great Siraya priestess
of ours. The rainfall during those three days and nights exceeded
that of a whole year. Low-temperature home delivery of all goods
in stock, original and authentic. The late prompt delivery.
The ancestral spirits' night soil that panicked and overwhelmed
one house after another. You call it "88 Flood,"
which made our villages vanish from the map overnight.
She said it was distributing indulgences and coupons and value-storing cards
and easy cards of water debts. The music of water floating at ease above
the disaster, taught orally and perceived mentally, without words or score. 
Abstract sounds, shapes, colors, postures
conveyed by mouth and ear, taught with alarmed hearts. With hundreds of
thousands of liquid ropes the scattered packages of memory
were connected and prolonged into a chant which grew thicker
with singing and bound us tight into a chain.
Overnight it was delivered to the tops of our heads in a roar.
In the squares of the tribe which were washed away, the guts of our tribe
sprang onto water in watermarks:
Still we feel like making sounds     tonight
Hand in hand     we stamp our feet in a circle     and listen
One sound overlaps another     to welcome ancestral spirits to join us on earth
The night you don't cry for anything     the night you are not allowed to cry
Still we feel like making sounds     this evening
Hand in hand      wearing wreaths      we listen
The rising sounds of the river     circle toward the hollow of the ritual bamboo
The burning souls fall aslant     unable to resist
the law of the liquid     a summer fugue of overlapping sounds
We haven't forgotten     they're coming up
synchronizing their breathing     They'll come and go among cigarettes and betel nuts
The wedding of death that takes away the rings
has been preparing all for tonight     to get united
Still we feel like making sounds     tonight
With our wet eyeballs reflecting each other's figures     in them
Hand in hand     we stamp our feet in a circle     with layers of
movements and postures     like tumbled houses being piled up again
Bright singing voices swallow up the night     enveloping
sands and houses     Still we feel like making
sounds     tonight     Still we feel like making our

 Author's note:
The Siraya people, who have now forgotten most of their language, are a nearly extinct branch of the plains aborigines in Taiwan.
Around August 8, 2009, typhoon Morakot hit Taiwan and caused severe floods. Many places were devastated by flooding, landslides,
and mudslides. In quite a few areas of Southern Taiwan, the rainfall in three days amounted to the average annual rainfall. Xiaolin Village
 in Kaohsiung County, inhabited mostly by the Siraya people, perished in the disaster. Nearly five hundred people among the approximately
 eight hundred registered in households were buried alive. From 1955, Xiaolin villagers started to hold a "night rite" annually in their
 konkai (public activity center) on the 15th and 16th days of the ninth lunar month. After the "88 Flood" in 2009, the surviving villagers
built a temporary konkai and held the night rite at Wulipu. They danced four-step dances in a circle hand in hand, singing the traditional chant.
Tiladam Tuaka was a 17th-century witch of the Siraya tribe (see my poem "Sinckan, 1660").

Translated by Chang Fen-ling






Pian Pian

She enjoyed eating leaves
and all natural or organic food
rich in chlorophyll. 

She also had me eat leaves
and made them gradually grow out of me
to become underpants to cover my lower body,
to become my polo shirt, jogging pants, and tuxedo
to compete with others for glamour. 

She was a fox draped with human skin,
yet she draped around me bark, leaves, and her love
for me, to make me glamorous and glittering. 

She was like an elegant butterfly, so was I as elegant as a butterfly.
We flew freely and gleefully, caressing and coupling each other.
It was unlike earthly life. 

But I should have restrained
the impulse to eat sashimi.
In the night club, those mermaids
fed me with their bellies and their breasts,
inviting me to their revelry of fish and water. 

Alas, I became a fish, one
with all scales gone. On my way home
I saw all my clothes and buttons turned into withered leaves,
scattering all over the ground.

Translator's note:
"Pian Pian" (
翩翩) is the name of the heroine of a tale among Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio
聊齋誌異: Liao Zhai Zhi Yi), written by Pu Song-ling (1640-1715) during the early Qing Dynasty.
In this poem, "Pian Pian" is used not only to refer to a girl's name but also to describe the delicate and elegant flight of a butterfly.
Sashimi"  is a Japanese delicacy consisting of very fresh raw fish sliced into thin pieces.
In Chinese, "fish and water" are used to imply the sexual relationship of a man and a woman.

Translated by Chang Fen-ling






18 Touches



Translator's note:

  “18 Touches” (十八摸) is a Chinese popular song with erotic allusions. , , (similar to b, p, m) are three phonetic symbols of Chinese.
Eluan Beak is the southernmost point of Taiwan. Eluan is a transliteration of the Paiwanese word for “sail.”
Red-headed Island is also called Orchid Island, where the Yami (the Tau) people live.
is the plural form of “taro” in Yami language (soli, the singular form), and soso means “breast.”
Turoboan, where the Liwu River runs through, is the ancient name of Hualien, famous for its Taroko Gorge.
Black Ditch is the old name of Taiwan Strait. Chen Li’s original poem in Chinese is shaped to the contour of Taiwan:




Translated by Chang Fen-ling









You didn’t come as you’d promised.

You simply sent a breeze at sunset

to blow to me what smelled like

your shampoo. I failed to tell

its brand. Or maybe it was not

shampoo at all, but the smell of

your perfume, given forth from your neck,

armpits, navel, or breasts...

It was getting dark. Standing

in front of the exposed concrete wall of the church,

how I wished myself to be a follower of some

secret religious sect, and you

a saint, preaching via hidden aroma.



Translated by Chang Fen-ling









Saint Antony Preaching to the Fish


From songs of Des Knaben Wunderhorn, which Mahler

composed at the end of the 19th century, I learned about

your story of preaching to the fish: Antony, young

Franciscan friar who came to Italy from your

hometown Lisbon. At the age of 26, you got to see

St. Francis of Assisi, aged 39, at the Chapter of the Mats

among three thousand friars. You slept on the ground, wore

garments of coarse cloth, walked bare-footed, felt contented

in poverty, took delight in preaching and helping others. You

should have heard marvelous tales about his preaching to birds

(perhaps you could communicate with each other in the bird or

fish language which you know). He asked you to enlighten

junior friars. Besides that, you preached to pagans out of your

will. In the church, you spoke loud; outside the church,

they turned a deaf ear. When you walked to the river mouth,

the fishermen on the boat thought nothing of you. You

spoke to the water rushing out to sea, as fluently

as the water flowed. All of a sudden a pike leaped out,

shuttling leisurely on the surface of water.

It washed its ears, listening with its body straightened

like a space shuttle, propelled by a passionate rocket, ready

to launch to heaven. The salmon which swam back home

joined in, along with the cod pregnant with spawn,

the sly and slippery eel, and the trout of elegant

bearing. They surrounded you in excitement as if waiting

in broad daylight for the vendors’ hawking and the subsequent

lottery drawing in the night market. The crab which walked

sideways and the turtle which moved at the speed of a turtle

also arrived slowly from the sea. Smilingly you said

to them, “I am selling nothing; I’m giving you

presents, the sacred words I’ve learned from Lord,

who gives you the three meals and night snack,

who gives you revelry with river water and sea water.

He gives Nature a huge dressing room

for you fishes to pick out a swimming suit and evening

dress which you like and fit perfectly well. You should

praise Him with the most fascinating postures of dancers

and with the most cheerful moods!” Having heard this,

the fishes opened their eyes wide, shouted bravo,

hurried to shake their scales. The loud jingling noises

they made were as loud as the tsunami. The fishing boats

out at sea turned around one by one. The fishermen knocked

on the decks, pressing the “like button” with every finger.

All the newly-sliced fresh sashimi of tuna and swordfish

struggled desperately for rejunction. As if granted rebirth,

they jumped into the water to celebrate the occasion.


Author's note:

  Saint Antony (1195-1231), also called “San Antonio de Padua,” was a Franciscan friar who was born in Portugal and died in Padua, Italy. 



Translated by Chang Fen-ling






Saint in the Kitchen


You are privileged to be called a saint when you

can see and hear well and aren’t yet aged sixty.

For you have worked part-time doing odds and ends

in my house besides being a teacher, a wife,

and a mother. Proficient in applied mathematics,

you know well how to prepare homely dishes for the next meal

by combining and rearranging scrap food, leftovers, along with

antiques preserved in the fridge since yestermorn or last week.

You are indeed a saint in the kitchen who are eco-friendly

and a lover of leftovers. You cook and enjoy food with

chilies (which kill me); as a result, you have it all to

yourself as well as to your stomach, or, since I dare not eat much,

put us in a predicament of struggling hard with more leftovers

at the next meal. Living up to your distinguished heritage

of cooking, you import to Hualien your father’s and forefather’s

private cuisine of stewed marinated beef and trickled pastries.

At the smell of them, our family of three drool; after we’ve

had enough, happiness trickles onto us from top to toe.

Knowing I dislike eating fruit and am too lazy to

eat fruit, you stock up varieties of juicers and invent

unique recipes, making unrecognizable and

fabulous juice out of various kinds of fruits which

I used to regard as sufferings. If you find the title

“Saint in the Kitchen” unpleasant to the ear,

I could call you “Saint Ah Fen-ling.”

O Saint, I’m blessed that you have my teeth and tongue

always feeling (ah Fen-ling) good, and that every day you’re

as nagging as a wind-bell hanging at the window of the kitchen,

tinkling and jingling loudly enough to be heard all over the world.


Author's note:

Fen-ling, which sounds very much like the word “wind-bell” in Chinese (風鈴, fon-ling), is the name of my wife Chang Fen-ling.



Translated by Chang Fen-ling







The North


The North erected a hanging imperial tent above the grasslands in my
dream. The young Khitan King, a rose between his lips, turned his galloping
horse around and, with bare hands, tore off the courage and grandeur of two
Chinese provincial governors. Pigeons carried his message requesting the
Emperor in Chang-an to pick the youngest and fairest princess to be his
bride. Without a second thought the valiant and beauty-worshiping emperor
granted his request, asking for three hundred bottles of crystal white
and fragrant Khitan rose attar in return. The envoys of Khitan escorted Princess
Aroma—their new queen—along with her dowry. Her dowry was herself.
Not a single drop of rose attar on her body, an indescribable aroma
followed her into the impe
rial tent, as if from heaven, not the world of dust.
The aroma was not only olfactory, but visual, and spread over Herd
Deer in an Autumn Forest
and Deer among Red Maples in the tent, bathing
the two paintings in the bright and gorgeous hues of autumn. I
don’t know
when the imperial tent became a hanging garden; I just heard maidservants
playing the Tatar horn, the bamboo flute, the sheng-pipes, the pipa-lute,
the zither, and the konghou-harp. Singing to the music, the Khitan King
rose to the air with his bride and officials in my dream of the grasslands.



Translated by Chang Fen-ling









Buffalo are buffalo even if they come to Beijing on their own.

Bravo! A buffalo is standing in front of

the Great Hall of the People as if confronting a grand

piano as powerful as a tank.   


It’s OK to play the piano to a buffalo.

But don’t, don’t play with bombs.


Translator's note:
This poem was written after Chen Li’s visit to Beijing in May, 2014. The Great Hall of the People is located on the west side of Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
There is a Taiwanese proverb, “Buffalo are buffalo even if they are led to Beijing,” previously quoted in Chen Li’s poem “Buffalo”.



Translated by Chang Fen-ling








With waves, with surfs, with the sea

with a swash, a swoosh, a splash, with lush

depths of waters and sable currents,

whitecaps, crests of crests, waves urging waves 

in the backyard garden and rearward ocean,

the forward hopes and outward glances

of a sloping backdrop, solid mountains, and soil thick,

with a view toward the far away,

with breaths, with laughs, with surfs, with laughing surfs,

with a sea of joyful tears, with the ocean’s lavish placard,

a special announcement of clear skies, with waves…



Translated by Elaine Wong


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