Mourning Problems

Xi Chuan
Translated from the Chinese by Lucas Klein

an ant dies, and no one mourns
a bird dies, and no one mourns if it isn't a crested ibis
a monkey dies, and monkeys mourn
a monkey dies, and people pry open its skull
a shark dies, and another shark keeps swimming
a tiger dies, and some people mourning are mourning themselves
a person dies, and some people mourn and some people don't
a person dies, and some people mourn and some even applaud
a generation dies, and the next generation doesn't really mourn
a country dies, most of the time just leaving apocrypha
a country that doesn't leave apocrypha wasn't a real country
if it wasn't a real country, when it dies no one mourns
no one mourns, and the wind blows in vain
rivers flow in vain, washing over rocks in vain
glistening in vain, making vain ripples
the river dies, and it's not for man to mourn
the wind dies, and it's not for man to mourn
the river and wind make their way to the sea together, the sea as vast as
          Zhuangzi's sea
the vast sea dies, and you will have to die
the dragon king dies, and you will have to die
the moon doesn't mourn, there's no one on the moon
the stars don't mourn, the stars aren't flesh and blood

November 11, 2014

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Xi Chuan 西川 (pen name of Liu Jun 刘军) was born in 1963 in Xuzhou, Jiangsu province. Poet, essayist, and translator, Xi Chuan graduated from the English Department of Beijing University in 1985, and currently teaches classical Chinese literature at the Central Academy for Fine Arts. His poetry has been widely anthologized, and he has received numerous prizes and honors including the Modern Chinese Poetry Award (1994), the national Lu Xun Prize for Literature (2001), the Zhuang Zhongwen Prize for Literature (2003), as well as various grants that allowed him to visit India, Italy, Germany, and the U.S. Blog about Xi Chuan.

photo of Lucas Klein

Lucas Klein — radio DJ, union organizer, writer, translator, and editor — graduated Middlebury College (BA) and Yale University (PhD), and is Assistant Professor in the School of Chinese at the University of Hong Kong. Klein recently translated Xi Chuan’s Notes On the Mosquito: Selected Poems.

Cover of Bloom & Other Poems

New York, New York

"Bloom, translator Lucas Klein’s second selection of the prominent contemporary poet Xi Chuan (b. 1963) sings and theorizes what it means to have a body and to write, to love books in a materialist culture, and to be Chinese in a wide range of global and historical contexts. Elliptic lyric seekers need not knock. These are garrulous rhapsodies and charismatic meditations…Klein’s propulsive translation gets at the poem’s focus on breath, rhythm, mantra as ways of capturing the reader in the poem; this flirtation and its strategies are the real subject of the poem. It’s a good gateway. The reader’s very body becomes part of the poem: we’re hooked in."
—Noah Warren, Astra Magazine

"The thrill of this collection arises from Chuan’s charismatic voice, vividly rendered by Klein, and the unexpected turns from the intellectual to the sensual, from the absurd to the dead-serious."
― Heather Green, Poetry

"Xi Chuan’s new poems, in Lucas Klein’s splendid translations, reveal an important body of work American readers should know."
—Arthur Sze

"Xi Chuan doesn’t just ‘let a hundred flowers bloom’: even three thousand isn’t enough, ‘bloom one hundred eight thousand times!’ Within this abundance, he shuttles between East and West, lets his thoughts roam from the time of the Warring States to Disney, from ‘the joy of stinky feet’ to ‘Cultural Revolution armbands.’ With delightful wit and irony. What remains unstated is the possible cost of such blooming in China. But it is there as an undertone in the humor and gives the poems their extraordinary power."
—Rosmarie Waldrop

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