Fragrant Mountain

Ma Yan
Translated from the Chinese by Stephen Nashef

Some people are taking a bus to Fragrant Mountain which climbsa long road, the way a sailor boards a ship whose course has been set.A jolting busful of people enjoying the squeeze as they imagine some feelingand endure a soft suffering, like assenting animals drawing a plough.It is the kind of suffering that is worth getting drunk in, a floatingsuffering, a suffering for which there is no need to cry out. It is a childin a cradle, the rumbling land of the nation, it is an earthquake.It is a moment of wind without scent, no different to anythingthat happened before, passing between bowls filled with rice, it isa new kind of rice, the dead bodies dredged up all at once from the paddies.from the North to the South. It is the warm, edgeless object itself, it isthe non-existent rift extending between unruly Brownian particles.But this division should exist, the distinction that fantasy needsto make the sentimental complain and kick at the ground.But no gulf can help us conceal our bodies, which we hidein the crowd, for we and they are the same. It could even be said,this is the event in the mirror that shatters itself. Fragrant Mountain Chinese text

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Image of Ma Yan

Ma Yan (1979–2010) was a Chinese Muslim born in Chengdu, Sichuan province. A writer of both poetry and prose, she graduated from Peking University in 2001 with a degree in classical Chinese literature. While in university she helped to organize the first Weiming Lake Poetry Festival, an annual event that continues to this day, and in 2000 co-founded the culture website, New Youth. In 2003 she returned to Chengdu. She passed away on December 28th, 2010 during a visit to Shanghai.

photo of Stephen Nashef

Stephen Nashef currently lives in Beijing where he is studying for a PhD in Chinese Islamic philosophy. He was awarded a Henry Luce Chinese Poetry and Translation Fellowship in 2018 and his translations of Ma Yan’s poems have appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review.

"Ma Yan’s poems present a view of the world both fiercely intimate and coolly scientific. Single lines and lyrics slip effortlessly from the personal and exacting into something more global, generous, expansive, essayistic, and wise."
-Anna Metcalfe

"Ma Yan's poems are cosmopolitan, embodied, cynical, sexual, philosophical, and strongly individual. She speaks at the edge of her private language, bending her art to make small spaces for us to touch her unique mind and her conflicted, deep relationship to pain and desire. This voice is worth adding to your understanding of what language can do."
-Nick Admussen

"Ma Yan is a poet with a keen wit whose work is rich in feeling. Armed with a powerful sensitivity to the world and language, she probes and interrogates life and its environment. Her poems glitter like stars behind black cloud, solitary and sparkling."
-Zhai Yongming

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