from Issue #6: Poetry by Ouyang Yu

Photo (CC) Sam Sherratt @ Flickr

Photo (CC) Sam Sherratt @ Flickr



Perhaps it’s all wrong
Perhaps one should have stayed poor and enjoyed it more
Perhaps one should never have been born to live the multiply lived lives that
…………are essentially the same the world over
Perhaps one should have been born with an ambition to become a top-
…………grossing international movie or a zero-adding movable asset
Perhaps it’s all wrong
Perhaps one should remain a never-ending cigarette that burns its time till it
…………turns into time-honoured ashes as long as life
Perhaps poetry should not have been allowed to exist; instead, poets should
…………have been set free to become birds or insects or some as yet to be
…………discovered creeping creatures
Perhaps the earth should suicide-bomb, leaving words as radioactive waves
…………for light years to decipher
Perhaps it’s all wrong
Perhaps nothing ought to be judged along the faultlines of good or evil or
…………good or bad or good or better
Perhaps one is a bin, once unleashed into the universe, is but a self-
…………proliferating bin tumbling into fragments of being doing in its undoing
Perhaps love is evil spelt backwards wrongly, good is gag, and life should
…………never have been lived for that single purpose of making money or else
…………why, I mean, one could have simply swapped one’s life for that of
…………being a piece of gold, waiting to be dug, like Australia
Perhaps it’s all wrong, after all



Not to write short fiction, spending time on things that may interest others,
but not self

Not to write drama

Not to write mere fiction that demonstrates to the world that one is merely
alive, from a few years of death to another few years of death

But to follow the wandering heart wherever poetry takes it and to bend over
the bow in the shape of mind designed to let loose a skyful of stars



I think that’s quite nice a way of dying
Suffering so much senile dementia
One doesn’t even know where one is till one is gone

She said this in her 3rd or 5th-I don’t remember which-floor
Apartment where one could gaze past trees and rooftops
At the corner of what looks slightly like the Opera House

Followed by my own remark that it’s more preferable
To die like the Polish poet who dreamt into death
In bed, found dead the next day, and better still

If everything financial is organized pre-death
She agreed and started talking about the significance
Of facial features, such as the deep valley between

My brows that cuts my way to success
A thing, according to her, one can’t go without
Or else one’s life is pure death

It so happens that today I’ve received a magazine
Carrying a poem among many with a line that says
Something to this effect: Why have there never been successful birds?

Many live, only to die
Many live a death of life
And many live, successfully, but no one remembers them, it seems



…………………….Translated from the Chinese by the author

Some people are sure to be completely forgotten by history
Not written into any books
Or local chronicles
Not mentioned online or offline
Such as Dad
Even I have almost forgotten him
But for the fact that the hazy Shanghai
Is not so hazy today
And that my footsteps back from the vegetable market
Are not so hurried
The sun, even if it is in China
Even if it is in early November
Still has the power, at its end time
Of stripping one off his jacket
The man, a poet who never wrote a poem
The man, who called everything names behind a closed door at home
Was amicable enough as soon as he went outdoors
At peace with the world, and who managed to get his three sons
To go to college within the same year
Two of them becoming foreign citizens
Within twenty years
The other one, Oh, the other one
Has since become a symbol of something hopelessly spiritual
Dad had a single first name before liberation: Cheng
And, after liberation, he was categorized as a ‘Historical Counter-
When he changed his name to Binyu
Yu for Zhou Yu, a piece of beautiful jade
Mom called him, in a strange local dialect

(Zhou Yu, 175–210, courtesy name Gongjin, was a military general and strategist serving under the warlord Sun Ce in the late Eastern Han Dynasty.)


Old Zuo

……………………Translated from the Chinese by the author

It’s a bit hard to write about Old Zuo
Some called her Big Sister Zuo
Some called her Mother Zuo
Some called her Aunty Zuo
And most of them would call her Old Zuo
Old Zuo smoked
Old Zuo didn’t cook and she preferred to eat at the canteen
Steamed bun and congee for breakfast, lettuce for lunch and a soup of turnip and
vegetables for dinner
When her sons came back on Sundays
Old Zuo would get up early and buy pork ribs and lotus-roots
To stew a pot of soup with them over a slow fire
Two of her sons she left in someone else’s care
The other one was away most of the times and went overseas later
Old Zuo loved smoking and she had many male friends and colleagues
She worked at the Third Front
She worked in the mountains
She was a good ping-pong player in her youth
Old Zuo wasn’t choosy about things she ate
But she was most particular about manners
Not allowing us to make noise while chewing food
Not allowing the tips of our chopsticks to be stained with a single grain of rice
when picking the dishes
And not allowing us not to hold our rice bowls steady at the dining table
Old Zuo was a stickler for cleanliness
She peeled whatever she ate
Including sesames
According to her daughter-in-law, married to her third son
Old Zuo was not happy in her old age
Suffering from senile dementia
To the degree that she did not recognize him when her oldest son came back from
Old Zuo now sleeps a calm sleep under the ground
Old Zuo is Mom
By the name of Zuo Zhen
A name not findable online
Right across the world



Since his arrival in Australia in 1991, Ouyang Yu has published 73 books of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, literary translation and criticism in both English and Chinese. His latest novel in Chinese is Taojin Di (Land of Gold Diggers), published by Jiangsu Literature and Art Publishing House in 2014 and his latest novel in English is Diary of a Naked Official, published by Transit Lounge in 2014. His latest translation into Chinese is The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes, published by Nanjing University Press in 2014. He is now professor of English at Shanghai University of International Business and Economics.