Ye Lijun

Translated from the Chinese by Fiona Sze-Lorrain

Waiting or Et Cetera

Curtains down. Alone in the empty theater
I wait, behind time
another unknown scene. I believe in my first impression
of the world. When I believe in a book, I would keep flipping
to the next nonspecific page. A copy
of The Book of Sand, tucked away on a dusty shelf in the National Library of Argentina
Without a beginning and an end, in the thick
of the story we each hide—as detail and illustration, infinite yet transient

Moonlight Sonata

At night, a few bold ones sleep under the moonlight
I always wake up alone
in this dream
staring for a long time. At my bed, a vulture is arranging its feathers

Green String

In May, June, the south has more rain. Tossing and turning
I pale, into notes
gradually hidden in simple notation—never once interpreted, or
yet unborn... I know
no matter where I stop, I'm always
a defect. So in this lifetime
I must be content
with my heart—content with its
bigotry, wild joys, meditations, endless desires... Please unlock gently
slowly lean closer—
slowly, on a green harp string, in tune with 4/4 time
and D major...

Thus Have I Heard

Can be juicy.
Can be pale.
Or mystical, unfathomable. Like the secret heart of an alarm clock.


Once the ponkans bore fruit, Father took a quilt
to stay in the shack, mindful
of ushering labor to harvest

Where was I? As I recall
the childhood orchard, only Father hummed
tunelessly through the grove

Yes, from then on I had disappeared
along with a gust of ineffable wind
a trace of pheasant claw
a nest on twigs
a cluster of mud holes freshly dug

Without any help
or care for faith
a wild child in the mountain woods has muddled
through her way till now, her soul
missing too many pages

No longer can I recover parts of my body
Buried in the mud
in the orchard is a larva's lifetime. As I recall
for an hour or perhaps longer
a childhood pupa
climbs out of its armor, free, hanging upside down
its thin wings in a bright spread

Born in 1972 in Lishui, Zhejiang Province to an impoverished family, Chinese poet Ye Lijun worked as a junior high art teacher and arts administrator for intangible cultural heritage. The author of three poetry titles, Survey (2005), Passing by Thousands of City Lights in Black Night (2009), and Flower Complex (2014), she has received several literary honors in China. Currently she resides in her native city Lishui and serves as an editor of Lishui Literature.

Fiona Sze-Lorrain has authored three books of poetry, most recently The Ruined Elegance (Princeton, 2016), a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and one of Library Journal’s “Best Books 2015: Poetry.” She is also a zheng harpist and widely published translator of contemporary Chinese, French, and American poets. One of her recent translations, Yi Lu’s Sea Summit (Milkweed, 2016), was shortlisted for the 2016 Best Translated Book Award. She lives in Paris.

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