Poems by Shang Qin

Shang Qin (1930-) Translated by Michelle Yeh.

Pigeons  Rooster  Snow  The Cat Who Walks Through the Wall  Moonlight—In Mourning of Someone  Giraffe  Fire Extinguisher  Electric Lock 


All of a sudden, I close my right fist tightly and pound it on my left
palm. “Pow!” How empty the wilderness is! Yet in the morbid sky
a flock of pigeons flies by: are they in couples or singles?

With my left hand I hold my loosening right fist, whose fingers
slowly stretch yet, unable to go all the way, can only turn around
and around in my palm. Ah, you innocent hands that have worked
but are to keep on working, have killed but are to be killed in the
end, how you resemble a pair of wounded birds. Yet in the dizzy
sky a flock of pigeons flies by: are they in couples or singles?

Now I use my left hand to caress my trembling right hand gently,
but the left hand trembles too, making it look even more like a
woman pitying her wounded partner, a grief-stricken bird. So I use
my right hand to caress my left hand gently . . . perhaps those flying
in the sky are hawks.

In the anaemic sky, not a single bird. Innocent hands tremble from
leaning on each other, hands that have worked but are to keep on
working, have killed but are to be killed in the end, let me raise
you up high, how I wish to release you—like releasing a pair of
healed birds—from my arms!


Sunday, I sit on an iron bench with a missing leg in a quiet corner
of the park to enjoy the lunch I bought at a fast-food place. As I
chew, all of a sudden it occurs to me that I have not heard a rooster
crow in a few decades.

With the bones I try to put together a bird that can summon the
sun. I can’t find the vocal cords, because they no longer need to
crow. Their work is incessant eating and they produce themselves.

          Under the artificial sunlight
          there is neither dream
          nor dawn


I fold a letter from the back, it’s whiter on this side, a good thing
that man doesn’t like to write on both sides. I fold and fold it
again, then fold it diagonally into a cone, then cut it with a small
pair of scissors, cut it and poke it, then

I’ve always thought snow is made this way: I open the cut-out letter,
it’s a good thing that man’s handwriting is so light that it
doesn’t show through, white, spread out, a six-petalled snowflake lies
on a yellow palm of hand.

Yet in the sky three thousand kilometres above or even higher, a
group of angels are at their wits’ end when they are faced with the
littering bodies on a big square below, and as the temperature sud-
denly drops below zero, their arguments and sighs gradually crys-
tallize and fall one by one.

The Cat Who Walks Through the Wall

Ever since she left, this cat has been coming in and out of my place
as she pleases; doors, windows, even walls can’t stop her.

When she was with me, our life made the sparrows outside the iron
gate and windows envious. She took care of me in every way, in-
cluding bringing me with her hands the crescent moon on nights
when there was a power outage, and emitting cool air by standing
next to me on humid summer nights.

I made the mistake of discussing happiness with her. That day,
contrary to my usual reticence, I said: “Happiness is the half that
people don’t have.” The next morning, she left without saying good-

She’s not the kind of woman who would write a note with lipstick
on the vanity mirror. She didn’t use a pen either. All she did was
inscribe these words on the wallpaper with her long sharp finger-
nails: “From now on, I will be your happiness, and you mine.”

Since this cat started coming in and out of my place as she pleases,
I have never really seen her, for she always comes at midnight,
leaves at daybreak.

Moonlight—In Mourning of Someone

An eyewitness recounts: “At the beginning I was simply stunned by
what he was doing, when I saw him walking above the tips of silver-
grass swaying in the breeze, wondering if he wasn’t indeed Bodhi-
dharma! He raised his cane high, shoved both of his arms outward
and hard, as if he were roaring; maybe he thought he was Moses
parting the Red Sea. Though the stream was shallow, there were
caverns left by illegal excavations. But I didn’t hear any sound of
water; it was early morning on the sixteenth day of the month, the
moon was especially full, the sky was very blue, so there was no
reason why he could not reach the other shore.”

Neither his clothes nor even his shoes were wet. According to the
autopsy report, he was drowned by moonlight.


After the young prison guard noticed that at the monthly physical
check-up all the height increases of the prisoners took place in the
neck, he reported to the warden: “Sir, the windows are too high!”
But the reply he received was: “No, they look up at Time.”

The kindhearted young guard didn’t know what Time looks like,
nor its origin and whereabouts, so night after night he patrolled the
zoo hesitantly and waited outside the giraffe pen.

Fire Extinguisher

At noon when anger arose, I glared at the fire extinguisher on the wall.
A child came up to me and said: “Look! There are two fire extinguishers in
your eyes.” Because of his innocent confession, I pinched his cheeks and
smiled, and could not help crying. I saw two mes crying separately in his
eyes. He did not tell me how many hims he saw in the mirrors of my

Electric Lock

Tonight the streetlights where I live went out at midnight as usual.

While I looked for my key the kindhearted taxi driver aimed his
headlights at me as he backed up. The ruthless glare projected the
inky silhouette of a middle-aged man onto the iron gate. It was only
after I had found the right key on the chain and inserted it straight
into my heart that the good fellow drove off.

Then I turned the key in my heart with a click, pulled out the
delicate piece of metal, pushed the gate open, and strode in. Soon
I got used to the darkness inside.

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