CHEN Li

The Lover of the Magician’s Wife

Trans­lated from the Chinese by Chang Fen-ling

 

How can I explain to you this breakfast scenery?

Orange juice falls off the fruit tree, and then flows along the river into

  cups;

sandwiches are conjured out of two beautiful roosters.

The sun always rises from the other end of the eggshell, in spite of the

   strong smell of the moon.

The table and chairs are just hacked off from the nearby forest;

you can even hear the leaves crying.

Maybe walnuts are hiding under the carpet, who knows?

Only the bed is stable.

But she’s so fond of Bach’s fugues—   the magician’s wife whose

   fickleness is due to

people’s incredulity. You can’t but stay up the whole night fleeing

   with her.

(I’m most likely the one who pants after her dog-tired…)

I’m afraid after she wakes up she’ll play the organ, drink coffee, and

   do her calisthenics.

Alas, who knows whether the coffee is boiling in the hat?

It’s my turn, perhaps, to be the next garrulous and verse-parading parrot.

                                         (1976)

From The Edge of the Island: Poems by Chen Li . Trans. Chang Fen-ling. Taipei: Bookman Books LTD, 2014

 

A Vending Machine for Nostalgic Nihilists

Trans­lated from the Chinese by Chang Fen-ling

 

                  Please choose the button

     Mother’s milk ● cold ● hot

     Drifting cloud ● large packet ● medium packet ● small packet

      Cotton candy ● instant ● enduring ● tangled

    Daydream ● canned ● bottled ● aluminum foiled

   Charcoal coffee ● with nostalgia ● with passion ● with death

     Star perfume ● with chirping of insects ● with twittering

                     of birds ● pure

      Sleeping pill ● for vegetarians ● for non-vegetarians

     Misty poetry ● two pieces in one ● three pieces in one

  • aerosol

       Marijuana ● of Freedom brand ● of Peace brand

  • of Opium War brand

         Condom ● for commercial use ● for noncommercial use

 Shadow facial tissue ● extra-thin ● transparent ● water-proof

  Moonlight ball pen ● gray ● black ● white

                                         (1993)

 

From The Edge of the Island: Poems by Chen Li. Trans. Chang Fen-ling. Taipei: Bookman Books LTD, 2014

Kubla Khan

Trans­lated from the Chinese by Chang Fen-ling

 

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 times per night, in different directions, in different formations,

to serve 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.”

                                         (2000)

From The Edge of the Island: Poems by Chen Li . Trans. Chang Fen-ling. Taipei: Bookman Books LTD, 2014

The North

Translated from the Chinese by Chang Fen-ling

The North erected a hanging imperial tent above the grasslands

in my dream. The young Khitan King, with 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.

He sent messages by pigeons to the Chinese Emperor in Chang-an,

asking for the youngest and fairest princess as his bride. The

valiant and beauty-worshiping emperor granted him his request

without a second thought, asking for 300 bottles of crystal white

and fragrant Khitan rose attar as betrothal gifts. The envoys of

Khitan escorted back Princess Aroma—their new queen—along

with her dowry. Her dowry was herself. Without a single drop

of rose attar on her body, an indescribable aroma followed her to

the imperial tent. It seemed to come from the heaven, not from

the earth. The aroma provoked not only the sense of smell, but

that of sight. It spread over Herd of Deer in an Autumn Forest and

Deer among Red Maples in the tent, bathing the two paintings in a

bright and gorgeous autumnal tint. I didn’t know when the imperial

tent turned into a hanging garden; I simply heard maidservants

playing the Tatar horn, bamboo flute, sheng-pipes, pipa-lute, zither,

and the konghou-harp. The Khitan King, singing to the music, rose

to the air with his bride and officials in my dream of grasslands.

                                         (2013)

From The Edge of the Island: Poems by Chen Li . Trans. Chang Fen-ling. Taipei: Bookman Books LTD, 2014

CHEN Li (陳黎, poet, essayist, translator; Taiwan) is the author of 14 books ofpoetry, among them [Animal Lullaby] (1980), [Love Song of Buffet the Clown] (1990),[Lightly/Slowly] (2009), [Me/City] (2011), [Evil/Exorcized] (2012), [Dynasty/Saint](2013), and [Island/Country] (2014). Together with his wife, translator Chang Fen-
ling, he has published some 20 volumes of poetry in translation, including that ofPlath, Larkin, Heaney, Neruda, Paz, and Szymborska. He is the recipient of theNational Award for Literature and Arts, the China Times Literary Award, and theTaiwan Literature Award. Chen Li has taught creative writing at National Dong HwaUniversity and is the organizer of the Pacific Poetry Festival. His participation is made possible by Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture. – See more here