Poems by Yang Zi


Rain comes fast.
People run faster,
shouting in the wind,
calling out the names of loved ones.
Wind tears away roofs.
When you raise your head the moon is no longer there.
The sky roars lowly like a pig.
So many unlit rooms.


My heart is again in a flutter,
my chest piled under stones.
I don’t have time to go to hospital
and check the tumor on my knee.
I can’t see how the rosy dawn rises above the filthy landscape,
can’t see the facial expression of Chekhov in the dark.
Just last year we had a satisfying conversation.

My heart is again in a flutter.
O, rain of time,
when did you turn from silver to black?
Why does the air feel solid like raw iron
without any gap for escape?
Why among all these people is there not a single soul
who is angry at himself, confesses to kinfolks, and weeps to his loved one?

Blue Flower

A thousand mountains are suffering from low fever.
Smoke floating in the woods
cannot rise to the sky.

A blue flower stirs on the breeze.
It’s talking about its happiness.
It pays no attention to earthly sorrows.


That day, I saw many sparrows
moving to the suburb.

They’re looking for a place without a name,
without police station or tax bureau,

to keep company with stones,
to wait for death in withered dog-tail grasses.

Record Temperatures

Unprecedented heat
spits its snake tongue
onto our lowered brows.
Black goats have eaten up the charred leaves,
their eyes spook.
Spooky-eyed black goats
saunter toward the shepherd.
They’ve already eaten the bark and thorns.

Gentle Animals Howl

Two months without rain.
Those gentle animals are frightened,
whimpering in the wilderness.

On the highways of an era
that penetrate our chests like swords,
major events one after another
turn the country into a huge meteor pit.

With our own eyes
we see nothing.
So we shut the doors and windows tight
and read newspaper in the living room.
At first we look at bare-breasted beauties with lust,
but soon our faces turn pale, like we’ve swallowed poison:
one man stamped a whole village
under his foot with a pig-slaughter knife,
another gambled away our entire year’s food in Macao,
gambled away our hearts and corneas,
someone loaned us to hell,
but devils in red kasayas and on red clouds,
sneak into the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Education,
sneak into hospitals, courts, orphanages…
We run in the dark tunnels,
chased by the tiger of economy,
threatened by loansharks and their life-and-death plaques…

Animals are crying again in the wilderness,
so gentle, so innocent.
They’re neither tigers nor mountain lions,
they’re us, whimpering.

Outside the window, it’s still hard cement, roaring steel,
and arrows of profit
penetrating our chests…

In murkiness, we dash through the boiling atmosphere
like meteors.
When we crash into foreign continents,
the surnames carved between our brows–
Zhao, Qian, Sun, Li,
have all disappeared.

I overhear from the adjacent room
shrieks like strange birds,
and glass smashed by iron.

That’s the room we’ve never opened,
our future.

Death Chalk

This is a black spring.
Death chalk marks every spot,
even places already in ruin.

Hot rain triples on everyone’s face.
Death walks by the window like a Lord Chancellor,
a contemptuous look on his face.

This is a spring that sprouts hatred in the hearts.
Because of fear, because of betrayal,
all is wasted and wizened.

O dark, dark is the heaviest thing in our hearts.
So many efforts neglected,
so many idols smashed.

This is a poisonous spring.
Plague in Guangdong, the Xinjiang earthquake, and Iraq is to be buried alive.
People wearing masks whip one another.

Weeping from distant corners can hardly silence our laughter.
Out of fear we laugh.
Out of fear we’ve learned bravery.

A feverish rain flows down the face.
This is Death’s calling card.
Our breath mingles with the last exhale of the dead.

From the delivery room I hear a newborn’s first cry.
I dash out into the street,
my shouts rag-muffled.

This is a strange spring,
Everything on the decline, many become bankrupt,
yet hospitals, colleges, and the sex industry prosper.

With all the rivers turning into stinky ditches,
water vendors have made a fortune.
Congratulations, water vendors and drug dealers.

On the first day of spring, thick snow flakes
are Death’s invitation.
Dreams revive, in deserted cemeteries, in overgrown wild fields.

In My Country

In my country, all the villages have grown wings
and are flying toward the cities, their bodies
stamped with the characters left and right.

In my country, beautiful girls open their eyes wide
looking for millionaires who fall from the sky.
He can be an ugly dwarf, as long as his fortune is a mountain.

In my country, law closes its eyes on the streets.
Lunatics call themselves brothers.
Policemen and thieves form an union.

In my country, many sons grow old with their parents,
many do not know gratitude, nor shame,
and the promised heaven is merely a shabby pedestal.

In my country, hunger breeds insanely.
Every man’s solitude is as immense as the sky.
They stamp profitless honor under their feet.


Yang Zi

Yang Zi (1963- ), an acclaimed contemporary Chinese poet, is the author of a dozen books including Border Fast Train (1994), Gray Eyes (2000), and Rouge (2007). After his university studies in Chinese literature, he lived in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region for nine years and co-founded the literary journal Big Bird. In 1990, he was appointed Vice Alderman of Tahaqi Village. Since 1993, he has lived in the southern coastal city Guangzhou and now works as the Associate Chief Editor of the Nanfang People Weekly. Also known as a poetry translator, he has introduced the works of Osip Mandelstam, Paul Celan, Fernando Pessoa, Gary Snyder, Charles Simic, and other Western poets to Chinese readers.

Ye Chun, Melissa Tuckey, 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.

Melissa Tuckey is the author of Rope as Witness (Pudding House Press, 2007). She is the recipient of a Fine Arts Work Center winter fellowship, and artist fellowship awards from Ohio Arts Council and DC Commission on Arts and Humanities. Her poems have been published in Fire and Ink: An Anthology of Social Action Writing and Poets for Palestine, as well as Beloit Poetry Journal, Poet Lore, Painted Bride Quartely, Hayden's Ferry Review, and other journals. Co-founder of Split This Rock Poetry Festival in Washington, DC, she currently lives in Ithaca, New York.

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 Zi, 2007. English translation copyright (c) Ye Chun, Melissa Tuckey, and Fiona Sze-Lorrain, 2010.