Crossing Half of China to Sleep with You
To sleep with you or to be slept, what’s the difference if there’s any?
Two bodies collide – the force, the flower pushed open by
the virtual spring in the flowering – nothing more than this
and this we mistake as life restarting. In half of China
things are happening: volcanoes
erupting, rivers running dry,
political prisoners and displaced workers abandoned,
elk deer and red-crowned cranes shot.
I cross the hail of bullets to sleep with you.
I press many nights into one morning to sleep with you.
I run across many of me and many of me run into one to sleep
Yet I can be misled by butterflies of course
and mistake praise as spring,
a village like Hengdian as home. But all these,
all of these are absolutely indispensable
reasons that I sleep with you.
On the Threshing Floor, I Chase Chickens Away
And I see sparrows fly over. They look around
as if it’s inappropriate to stop for just any grain of rice.
They have clear eyes, with light from inside.
Starlings also fly over, in flocks, bewildered.
They flutter and make a sound that seems to flash.
When they’re gone, the sky gets lower, in dark blue.
In this village deep in the central plain
the sky is always low, forcing us to look at its blue,
the way our ancestors make us look inside ourselves,
narrow and empty, so we look out again
at the full September –
we’re comforted by its insignificance but hurt by its smallness.
Living our life this way, we feel secure.
So much rice. Where does it come from?
So much gold color. Where does it come from?
Year after year I’ve been blessed, and then deserted.
When happiness and sadness come in the same color code,
to be forgotten. But who am I separated from?
I don’t know. I stay close to my own hours.
Translations from the Chinese
Editorial note: Yu Xiuhua became well known in 2014 with her online poem “Crossing Half of China to Sleep with You.” In 2015 her debut book sold fifteen thousand copies in one day. The New York Times named her one of the eleven most courageous women around the world in 2017.
Read Dian Li's essay about Yu Xiuhua from this same issue.