Poems by Yang Jian


In the field
frogs crow, as if pleading:
“I’m in a jar,
a green jar with four legs and two eyes.”

Night Deep

At night, I’m far from being born.
Outside, the empty stillness
in frog cries is my real body.
Dew on palm leaves
drops one by one.
Bare-footed girl,
and the moon,
are like newly-awakened desires
that lure me to be born.
I fall into the accurate and endless emptiness of the universe,
and can no longer oblige night mother’s
wish of giving birth to me.

Expressing the Heart

When there’s no more subject to preach about,
people will come live here,
even though they have no idea how to place
the various trees, flowers,
various grasses, and birds safely.
People have so many treasures,
but don’t have the bottles to hold them.
Everything here
is a refraction of his heart.
If any one of these different trees, flowers,
different grasses, and birds
is not part of his heart,
he’ll be isolated,
he’ll sink for a long time
in dreams…

When there’s no more subject to preach about,
people will come live here,
all with a forlornness of losing
the center wharf in their heart.
And the lake is peaceful,
as if it were refracting its thoughts
after having just been violated,
refracting without a slightest wave.
From now on,
swift water birds,
blend in the firmament of light,
transform into distant bell chimes,
calming down gradually,
like you, sitting by my side,
like me, sitting by your side…

Leap Bridge

December willow, like a frail girl,
we will keep her sacred in the heart.
A crane from afar sketches the desolation of the dusk.
A worker and a farmer meet at the bridge without a word.

Crisscrossing railtracks are gallows laid down,
painted by sunset,
like a substantial debt
we need to clear off.

In the outskirts, a rich lady’s grave lies under the weight of a stone.
Her sorrow begins in 1912 and ends in 1990.
The click of the lock on her door
devours a deserted heart.

I No Longer Seek Outward

I no longer seek,
I lay it down,
like dusk lays down coolness,
the moon lays down its glow.

We’re wrong,
entrusting hope to external changes.
For years,
blinded by anger.

Waves of thoughts
like smudges on bronze vessels.
Let’s suppress them,
troubled waters of misfortune in this lifetime, of sorrow in the next.

No longer seeking outward,
in the contraction of pain
I lay it down.
Moonlight scatters over mountaintop.


In winter,
the world condenses
into a cowering quail.

World, gone mute.
The immense breath that runs through a story
vanishes because of withered morality,

grinds in anguish
with waned landscapes,
like a stone grinding courage.

They did not raise their children,
they could not raise their children,
they thought, “No, it can’t end yet.”

Write down the bleak river
write down the fierce white reeds,
every mountain peak,

every human shadow.
The river is drawing with its vast murkiness
the empty victory it won through renunciation.

Native Land

When it was still possible to wither,
I was just a child.
In the ancient golden maple woods,
there was my image at fifteen or thirteen.
Like tender light on the river,
along with a little animal* calming the water,
broad chimes from Pavilion Sky Heart.

* The “animal” refers to a stone statue in the shape of a mystical animal that the natives used to put by their waters, to protect themselves from the floods.

By the Dock

Sun soaking in the river water, sinks…
River wind puffs on the gray clothes of peasant workers.
Still a section more of dyke they must dig,
two of them squat on a stone, smoking cigarettes.

Like a major event that was over,
a loneliness, that matches the wintry night sky.
People live in the cities with nailed iron windows,
their lives mostly wasted.

A calf runs over,
a pained deformed organ,
it murmurs by the river,
“Could it be that I really deserve this…?!”


Yang Jian

Born in Anhui Province in 1967, Yang Jian worked as a factory laborer for thirteen years. A practising Buddhist and scholar of Chinese traditional culture, he began writing poetry during the mid-'80s. Laureate of the first Yiu Li'an Poetry Award (1995), the ninth Rougang Poetry Award (2000), the first Yulong Poetry Award (2006), and the prestigious Chinese Media Literature Award (2008), his books of poetry include Dusk (2003), which was rated as one of the ten best books of the year, Old Bridge (2007), and Remorse (2009). Yang Jian also paints with ink and brush. He now lives in Ma'anshan, Anhui.

Ye Chun and Fiona Sze-Lorrain

Ye Chun writes and translates in English and Chinese. She is the author of a book of poetry, Travel over Water (The Bitter Oleander Press, 2005), and has completed a book of translations of Hai Zi's poetry entitled Wheat Has Ripened (with prose translations and an introduction by Fiona Sze-Lorrain, forthcoming, Tupelo Press, 2012). Her work has appeared in AGNI, American Poetry Review, Conjunctions, Indiana Review, Subtropics, and elsewhere. Also a visual artist, she currently lives in Virginia.

Fiona Sze-Lorrain co-directs Vif éditions, an independent French publishing house in Paris, and co-edits Cerise Press. Author of Water the Moon (Marick Press, 2010), she is also a zheng concertist. Her CD, In One Take, is forthcoming this fall. She writes and translates in French, English, and Chinese. With Ye Chun, her translations of Hai Zi will be forthcoming from Tupelo Press in 2012. Visit her website at www.fionasze.com.

Copyright (c) Yang Jian, 2003. English translation copyright (c) Ye Chun and Fiona Sze-Lorrain, 2010.