“City of the Big Shoulders:
They tell me you are wicked”

************Carl Sandburg

In Chicago, we will press buttons to speak of love,
ride mechanic birds into the spring green,
pick bellis perennis from billboards,
and lay out a culture of desolation
below a railway station

Heading south from 7th Street,
I know there is an equation hidden in your hair
a taxi stole God’s starlight
spread both arms to breathe aromatic mathematics

When all the beauty of autumn is electrolyzed,
kerosene and your debauchery in a tight deadlock,
my heart will be reduced to
an elegy inside a blast furnace

Sometimes at dusk,
timid angels beat their wings, hanging back,
but their tender hands are finally snapped off
by electric cables between smokestack and smokestack

It is as if I were far from China’s hibiscus flowers,
whistling alone and fixing my tie,
while thinking that in my old hometown
there should be a fox upon the grassy slope

So you became mine that night,
like a dizzy butterfly astray among cinders
Yes, in Chicago,
only butterflies are not made of steel

And as the steam engine lets out
its pathetic wolf whistle,
whose velvet shawl
lying under the man-made pine tree in the garden
has salvaged this coarse, this illiterate city…

In Chicago, we will press buttons to write poems,
ride mechanic birds to watch clouds, mow oats from billboards,
yet want to lay out a laughable culture
below the railway station
that has attained desolation

(December 16, 1958)


Ya Hsien

Ya Hsien (né Wang Ching-Lin) is a Taiwanese poet. Born in Henan Province in 1932, he travelled to Taiwan with the Nationalist Party in 1949. There, he began his literary career, co-founded the Epoch Poetry Quarterly, and edited the literary supplement of Taiwan’s United Daily News. During the 1950s and '60s, he became an important figure in Taiwan’s Modernist movement. He has won numerous awards, including the Zhongkun International Poetry Prize. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the University of Wisconsin, he now resides in Canada. His book of poetry, Abyss, was translated by John Balcolm in 2017.

May Huang

May Huang is a third-year student at the University of Chicago, where she is majoring in English literature and working as an editorial assistant for the Chicago Review. Born in Taiwan and raised in Hong Kong, she has received a Hong Kong Young Writers' Award and first place in Cha: An Asian Poetry Journal’s Hong Kong Contest. Her poems have appeared in Feminine Inquiry and Cha.

芝加哥. Copyright (c) Ya Hsien, 1959. English translation copyright (c) May Huang, 2017.