Sunday, March 15, 2009

Poetry by Ma Lan: A Woman Like This 这么一个女人

A Woman Like This

Once upon a time there was a woman from a distant land.
She ate, slept, caught cold, even married.
She shined her shoes with eyes wide open, focusing on their colors, noting their moods, talked big about her private life.
This woman was most probably a beauty, red showing through white (1).
I imagine she’s spectacular; but simply because a woman’s beautiful
Are her shoes wider, larger than mine?
My primary job is to help others gauge distance.
The distance between one person and the next, calculated by feet and inches, is more measurable than the distance between this woman and me.
I’ve been sluggish since the day I was made,
The day I first risked danger of abstraction; who says fear is the harbinger of a troubled pregnancy?
Women who have had difficulty birthing remain logical, especially those quasi-beauties who show black through yellow.
Oh, beautiful woman,
At twenty you will die of revolution, at thirty: illegal cohabitation,
At forty: an auto accident. The man who died on the road is the poet of our generation.
Poet, oh fond and cherished poet, am I still your princess?
If I'm not, then on whose throne do I reign? crazy and tender as I am?
Tender as snow, I'd rather be a humble tile than precious jade hammered into shards.
Dubious life, virtual life’s sold--the woman or me?
One or the other. Woman plagued with painful wounds, will you, gazing at the fire from across the shore,
Pay me your last respects? I want you to be satisfied; the thousand-mile journey begins
on the tip of your typing fingers.
The waters flow back and forth in decipherable patterns, but what’s to come of me this year!
I, a woman who plants nine hundred-ninety kinds of roses (2), know that grasses bend only when wind blows,
That no one can duplicate my craft; I know when you are in the kitchen thinking of me and tasting bile, tempering your resolve (3).
I have long since departed. We live in distinct castles, anonymous eyes watching out for us over ramparts.
We both have good judges of talent behind us (4). I’m constantly changing direction, searching
For an exit. The trains pass quickly
Through the tunnel
I see countless schools of fish swimming above my head, joyous.
Is this the process of naming, my prized, inspiring hometown friend (5)? How far can this kind of woman walk?
Though it is said she has married, eliciting outrage,
This kind of woman must resort to buying public bonds to repay private debts, both sides wounded, defeated.

April, 1998

1. “Showing through white” is a common expression describing beautiful skin; Lan plays on this later in the poem with “black showing through yellow,” describing ugliness.
2. This line is from a popular song, the kind often sung in karaokes in China.
3. Literally translates as "sleeping on brushwood and tasting gall." The dictionary explains, "The state of Yue was defeated by the state of Wu [during the Spring and Autumn Period of the Eastern Zhou dynasty, 777-475 BC], and Gou Jian, King of Yue resolved to take revenge. He would taste a gall bladder and rest on brushwood before eating and sleeping to remind himself of the humiliation he had experienced. After a long period, he finally defeated the Wu."
4. Literally "Bo Le," a name of a legendary connoisseur of horses in ancient times. His name is synonymous with “a good judge of talent.”
5. Another venerable idiom, literally "arising for sword practice at cock's crow.” The dictionary explains, "In the Eastern Jin dynasty, Zu Ti and Liu Kun were good friends and often encouraged each other, and both rose at cock's crow to play with their swords.”




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