River

October 12, 2021
by 
translated by 
A black and white photograph of a building surrounded by water at night
Photo by Wayne S. Grazio / Flickr

In spring of the year I turned twenty
I looked for a river
river calm and wide
that I believed to be my past incarnation.

Since childhood, I’ve seen it many times
in the blink of an eye, in dreams
but I could only glimpse it in flashes
before it faded back into nothing.

River flowing alone across the earth –
what moonlit nights and sun-bright days has it drifted past?
To which hills, trees, or villages has it given its light?
What months and years have since carried it away, not to return?

Bright river forever disappearing, I never found it again.
That spring, I walked the banks of countless rivers
but they were not the one from before,
they did not know the bleakness of my life.

Casting warm waves, flowing gently,
like moonlight from a past life, like home,
but it is a constant farewell –
the more I approach, the farther it recedes.

Many years have passed since that spring.
I see now that I’ve been split in two,
one of me in this world: reading, writing, sleeping,
and the other walking, to this day, along that faraway river.

Translation from the Chinese

Du Ya was born in 1968 in Henan Province. Before becoming an editor and writer, she worked as a nurse for ten years. She is the author of The Wind Uses Its Bright Wings (1998), Selected Poems (2008), and Sunset and Dawn Light (2016), which won the prestigious Lu Xun Prize.

Anni Liu was born in Xi’an, in Sha’anxi Province. Her other translations of Du Ya’s poems can be found in Columbia Journal, Two Lines, the Asymptote blog, and elsewhere. Her debut poetry collection, Border Vista (Persea, 2022), received the 2021 Lexi Rudnitsky Prize, and she has been awarded fellowships from Undocupoets and the American Literary Translators Association. She holds an MFA from Indiana University and works at Graywolf Press.

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