Xi Chuan

Translated from Chinese by Lucas Klein


There is a lotus floating in the sky. There is a splotch of bird shit caught by the
          ground. There is a fist that has penetrated his ear. On Sunlight Avenue he will
          be transparent.
The fire in the sky has already been put out, how many lives is this dust on the
          ground? He hears his childhood nickname called, a boy who constantly walks
          into his heart.
In the dawn stockade of his heart is only one chair.
On the bloody battlefield of his heart a chessboard is waiting.
He has been submitted to nine times, been resisted ten, been killed three times, and
          killed four.
Moonlight cast on the scum-covered river, dew washes clean the romantic spirits.
In a carnival, a spirit stepped on his heel. Ill fortune beginning, a guy with
          revolutionary eyes shoved him out of line.
Many years later he lit his first match. “Just like that,” he whispered to the butterfly.
On both sides of the street swept up by butterflies, on both sides of the street that
          had been a field, each compound looks like the family he betrayed, every
          magpie is falling.
The old world demolished right up to his feet, he feels himself becoming
Grief rushes into his temples like the Big Dipper rushing out of rooftops … a
          cough, a dizzy spell, and he utterly forgets the script of life.




The province he was born in was covered in rivulets and jade-green rice fields. Agriculture’s cool breeze chilled his
          behind. He requested the gods in the temple to look after him better.
He studied hard, studied until the female ghosts of midnight washed his feet; he
          labored hard, labored until the earth could put forth no harvest.
Venus twinkled low in the sky, the wind took his boat right beneath Venus. With
          the thrill of eloping he opened Nero’s door, but strolling into the majestic
          square his bad breath aggravated Nero.
The other hemisphere’s deities heard his blubbering, the other hemisphere’s
          blubberers received his breadcrumbs. But according to everyone in his
          hometown he was a success: once back in his homeland he set up a limited
He put locks on every drawer.
His mouth was full of poison blood.
He imagined all girls submitting to his molestation.
He endorsed a check to the night.
In a transitional period, the small eat and drink their fill. He loosened his belt,
          trading small favors for ovation.
On a winter’s morning he fell dead in his countryside villa, some say it was murder,
          and some say it was suicide.




The King of Chess who was slaughtered on the chessboard by a fifteen year-old
boy, the King of Chess climbing up a mountain alone with two bottles of DDT,
unable to bear a shame not suffered in thirty years, unable to bear a thunder that
hadn’t cracked, wind that hadn’t blown, rain that hadn’t fallen in thirty years.
Called a loner for thirty years he became a loner in the end. Only at the moment of
self-reckoning did he realize the pointlessness of calling it quits, and grow a bit
Chirping cicadas. Sunset. Or the sunrise of that little boy.
He opened a bottle of DDT.
(A little less for the bugs to drink.)
He rolled his eyes to see the black and white birds in chess formation against the sky.
But he was no longer qualified to play chess: he couldn’t move the birds, the birds moved themselves.
He never guessed I’d snatch the bottle of pesticide from his hand. He thought I was going to usurp his death, or that I
          wanted to die before him, and so couldn’t control his rage.
I said I was another King of Chess overthrown by a boy.
He vacillated for a moment, curiosity dampening his death wish.
“Did the same boy overthrow us both? Is regime change God’s will? Why have we
never met? Why have we had the same experiences?”
We set up a chessboard on the mountaintop.
Each felt he faced himself.
The setting sun continued its sunset. We realized neither of us could beat himself.


Xi Chuan 西川 (penname of Liu Jun 刘军) was born in Jiangsu in 1963 but grew up in Beijing, where he still lives. One of contemporary China’s most celebrated poets, having won the Lu Xun Prize for Literature (2001) and the Zhuang Zhongwen Prize (2003), he is also one of its most hyphenated littérateurs—teacher-essayist-translator-editor-poet—and has been described by American writer Eliot Weinberger as a “polymath, equally at home discussing the latest American poetry or Shang Dynasty numismatics.” A graduate of the English dept. of Beijing University, where his thesis was on Ezra Pound’s Chinese translations, he is currently employed at the Central Academy for Fine Arts in Beijing, where he was hired as an English instructor, then taught Western literature in Chinese translation, and now teaches pre-modern Chinese literature. He has taught at New York University (2007) and University of Victoria (2009), and is currently translating the work of Gary Snyder into Chinese.

Lucas Klein—a former radio DJ and union organizer—is a writer, translator, and editor of CipherJournal.com. His translations, essays, and poems have appeared at Two Lines, Jacket, and Drunken Boat, and he has regularly reviewed books for Rain Taxi and other venues. A graduate of Middlebury College (BA) and Yale University (PhD), he is Assistant Professor in the dept. of Chinese, Translation & Linguistics at City University of Hong Kong. Endure, a small collection of Bei Dao 北島 poems translated with Clayton Eshleman, is now out from Black Widow Press, and his translations of Xi Chuan 西川 are forthcoming from New Directions as Notes on the Mosquito. He is also at work translating Tang dynasty poet Li Shangyin 李商隱.

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