Selected Poems of Haizi, translated by Gerald Maa

Haizi, birth-name Zha Haisheng, lived from 1964-1989, born in the city of Gaohe in Anhui province. At the age of fifteen he entered Beijing University to study law. Upon graduating in 1983, he was appointed professor at Chinese Politics and Law University. In March 1989, on or around the exact date of his twenty-fifth birthday, Haizi, while traveling alone, committed suicide by lying down on a railroad track near Shanhaiguan at the eastern end of the Great Wall of China. Without argument, Haizi's suicide is a major literary event of China after the Cultural Revolution, influencing generations of writers and artists. However, Haizi's work has lasted as poems, not as mere footnotes to a suicide. He stands out in the Chinese canon with his Symbolist aesthetic, his difficulty, and his deeply conflicted love for his country. China and its artists, diasporic and domestic, widely consider Haizi one of the country's most prominent writers since Lu Xun. His books of poems are Earth (1990), The Works of Luo Yihe and Haizi (1991), The Poems of Haizi (1995), and The Complete Poems of Haizi (1997).

Autumn

Use our skeletons, absurdly laid across the ground
Write in the sandy beach: youth. Then carry the senile father upon your back
Endless daytime      the direction broken off
Animal dread is filling our poetry

And whose voice can reach the autumn midnight      a lasting discord
Conceal our skeletons, absurdly laid across the ground—
Autumn’s already coming.
Not the faintness of pity or affection: autumn’s already coming


1987. August




Elegy (II: picking sunflowers)
—for Van Gogh’s tale: the suicidal journey

The man stealing cattle in the stormy night
Crawled through my window
On my dreaming body
Picks sunflowers

I am still slumbering
On my sleeping dreamed body
Mottled sunflowers opened
Those two hands that pluck
In the sunflower field
Are like beautiful clumsy pigeons.

The man stealing cattle in the stormy night
From mankind me
He pilfers from the body.
I am still slumbering
I am brought outside the body
Outside the sunflowers. I am in the world
The first ewe      (death’s empress)
I feel myself beautiful
I am still slumbering.

The man steals cattle in the stormy night
And so is very happy
The self became another mottled ewe
In my body
Running filled with joy



Birthday

Have gone insane.
The sun’s music. The sun’s horse

You sit at the near spot sit at the distant place
Like a school of fish following a fisherman. Have grown breasts
A Portuguese village. Have grown breasts
The shepherd’s leather whip. Have grown breasts

But we live in autumn
Autumn winds whipped up on the earth
Autumn rain      fit after fit
You sit at the near spot      sit at the distant place

How lonesome were we then
O how distant?

Yet today is a birthday
I light candles, light the bride’s two ears
Ears of horses and other people
Vertical in the north—the roof of that one night.




Dawn (II)

Dawn holds the cup of her own son’s fresh blood
Holding me, brightness’ twin brother
Walking on the ancient Persian plateau zone
Open country of holy scriptures
Sun’s light like flood water’s over-brimming onto two shores of the plain
Sprouts radiant wheat like sabers’ edges
Walks all over India and Tibet
From there I trek distances      walk all over India and Tibet
On the snow mountain, jagged rocks and lions that seek
The Sky’s daughter and poetry
The Persian plateau also the summit of the native ground before I’d been exiled

The plateau ground that accepts the bright words I’ve spoken
The open field is all grain and barns
Blanketing resentment
And the dark mother of blessing
O maternal Earth, your evenings all belong to you
Your darkness all belongs to you, then why not give me dawn
Let the girl wear fresh and tender lips the likeness of bouquets
Let the girl for me wear lips the likeness of flames
Let the skull of primordial night lift
Let the god from in my skull rise afloat
A Sky blood-red light flushed from a battlefield
The fire within fire, he has a coarse name: sun
And Revolution, she has a naked body
That is walking a line and dissipating




Swan

In the night, I heard the sound of swans flying over a distant bridge
The river water in my body
Echoing them
When they fly over birthday loam, dusk loam
There is a wounded swan
In fact only the lovely wind that rustles knows
She herself is wounded. She’s still in flight

And yet the river water in my body is heavy
As heavy as door panels hanging on houses
When they fly across a distant bridge
I cannot use graceful flight to echo them

They seem a heavy snow when flying across a graveyard
And yet, in the heavy snow there’s not a road that leads to my front door
—The body has no door—only fingers
Vertical in the graveyard, like ten more frost-bitten candles

On my loam
On birthday loam
There is one wounded swan
Straight as a folk song deftly sung




The Autumnal Motherland
--extended to Mao, he said “ten thousand years is too long”

The rivers of ten thousand autumns draw out the head      plough across the city-states singed by raging flames
The heart still spreads open every wound that spring lust has flourished

The autumn thunder fleeting      the holy fire singes
The mysterious spring fire turns to cinders fallen by our feet

Take along a convict whose skullcap crackles out noise
Let me fashion a gold-colored horn from his scalp      trumpet in spring

He calls for me as the spring poet      the poet that loves death
He wants me to wander across the motherland and strange cities in the autumn that trumpets from the golden horn

From Xinjiang to Yunnan sitting      on one hundred thousand great mountains
Autumn      so the distant pride of lions      looks to gather afloat

The pride of lions that circles above the motherland      takes along the city-states I wander across, singed by holy fire
These days the autumn wind is fleeting      blows on my lips that gather dusk

The land the surface layer      that warm trade-wind and various lusts that blood has flourished
These days all desires turn into corpses or manure      the golden horn trumpets
These days there is only him      pardoning the arc of the clamoring litter
Wiping away the spring or summer blood-marks from the lips
It seems the Earth suffers for abundance.




Facing the Ocean, with Warming Spring Flowers Bloom

From tomorrow on, become a joyous man
Feed horses, chop firewood, travel the world
From tomorrow on, consider grains and vegetables
I have one house, facing the ocean, with warming spring flowers bloom

From tomorrow on, keep in touch with all relatives by mail
To tell them about my joy
The lightning of that joy reveals it’s mine
I, then, shall tell every single person

Let every stretch of stream, every mass of mountain draw a warm name
Stranger, I also give you blessings
May you have a bright future
May your lovers unite in wedlock
May you harvest joy in dirt and weeds
I just wish to face the ocean, with warming spring flowers bloom

                                                            1989 January 13




The Nightscape

In the nightscape
I have three times suffered hardships: wandering, loving, existing
I have three forms of happiness: poetry, throne, sun




River Source and Bird (originally the afterword for Rivers)

       Upstream, red flowers, luminous as fresh blood, blossomed on the small
footpath that leads to the peak. The rotted leaves, like a layer of water that brims over, thirsts
for fire and caresses. Bulky human forms crawled out of caves and hollowed trunks. A lake
wave flooded the woods and half of the mountainside. Desire and blessings have reached
the people. The purple-red herd of horses glide around like liquid. A nation that’s unable
to speak of moving along converts. The faint snow peak and grassy slope set the crowd’s
ugliness in relief. People use thick eyelashes to block off the rainy seasons behind their
eyes. Behind their backs a drumming that reaches heaven penetrates a large, faint, pain-
inducing memory. The barren mountain range. Where did we come from? Where do
you think we go? Who are we? A spot of red moonlight and one or two glossy musical
instruments, rubbed by hands and lips, accompany us on our passage through the night.
That red moon is like a giant birthmark that can’t be wiped away. So, one July night, I’m
not silent, divulging a story to every bonfire. About a mother kicked awake, in the deep
night, by the baby’s feet inside her stomach, about the umbilical cord. About the lover’s
hair singed with my scorching breath, draped down to cover her tender chest. About the
north’s dejection and seeds in the snow. About camaraderie and the bloody shield.
About the shooting star that falls and soars. About the lily of the valley and the fragrant
pink frost, about the bride’s weeping. About the two blood-soiled palms that contain
hostility, about fairness, prayer, and revenge, about the just sun’s light lashing the
criminal’s bright back. About the shepherd’s song and the moon goddess. Many people
wake up and fall asleep. Many people fall asleep and wake up. The human shadows by
the fire coalesce into a giant spirit. In the end I spoke of the bird. Filled with
intelligence. Flight is what can’t be transcended. Flight is what can’t be resolved with
strength or intelligence. It’s a miracle. If you stride into the ranks of the birds, you’ll
feel lonely. Your heart will warmly expand and contract under doubtful feathers. Your
heart is not for keeping guard, rather flying to live. The gun muzzle from the ground
easily aims at you. You fly on that blue, grief-stricken backdrop, striking the swallowed
seeds into the chest, flying, lonely, distressed, and even bringing the despair that counters
the commonplace.


Gerald Maa is co-editor of The Asian American Literary Review. His translations of Haizi have appeared in places such as Chinese Writers on Writing, Circumference, Poetry Northwest, and Common Knowledge, earning him a Florence Tan Moeson fellowship from the Library of Congress Asian Reading Room, as well as a translation grant from the International Center for Writing and Translation. He has also earned scholarships to the Bread Loaf conference and has work forthcoming in American Poetry Review and Studies in Romanticism. Having earned an MFA from the University of Maryland, Gerald is currently a Ph.D. student in the English department at the University of California, Irvine.