Poems by Song Xiaoxian

Song Xiaoxian (1966-). Translated by Simon Patton.

Child of Sorrow  Notice  Open Your Mouth  Borrowed Light  Happiness  Enormous Appetite  God  Blind Girl  Bruises  In the Morning, War Broke Out  Love  Slight Breeze  A Life  1958 

Child of Sorrow

the child of sorrow speaks unclearly, he can hardly bring himself
to talk of his own difficulties, he laughs a lot
he’s always biting on his lower lip, his riches
are as meagre as my kindnesses

one time, I turned out the collar
of his shirt for him, he blamed himself
perhaps, happiness is in the back pocket of his pants
anyhow, the money from his father
is enough to send him to school

his bike makes a creaking noise
and like the child of sorrow is always crying, he doesn’t have many clothes
every night, he shares an old desk with his ma
she does her marking, the child of sorrow learns his lessons

the 20-watt globe is just bright enough, just bright enough
homework done,  the child of sorrow gets into his cot
he sleeps on a battered old sleeping mat
but the window is big enough, he can see the stars

the stars sparkle, never sleeping
great handfuls of them
just like toys in a dream—
has the child of sorrow had a glimpse of happiness then?


there’s a large notice board
in front of the court
I hadn’t looked at it for a long time,
so I went up and carefully examined
all the notices
at first, there was only me
later, when others came along
I stopped reading

there were people who’d murdered for money,
drug addicts, rapists
I saw 10 full-bodied characters in bold type
those printed names
had already been escorted to the execution ground
and shot, the youngest of them
was born in 1980

the notice was posted last August
it still looked fresh, the corpses of the dead criminals
had not yet decomposed
and were set to celebrate New Year
in the dirt

Open Your Mouth

as soon as you open your mouth
someone takes advantage of you
shut your mouth
and someone takes advantage of you
get dressed
someone takes advantage of you
take your clothes off
someone takes advantage of you

you go out
someone takes advantage of you
you shut yourself up inside
and think hard about all the mistakes you’ve made
you die you are put in your coffin
are taken advantage of

Borrowed Light

I wake up well before six a.m.
I rub my eyes
and raise the blind
quite suddenly to find
those coloured clouds behind the water tower
are beautiful
I think about a photo
but see how the colours
fade by degrees
now I almost
forget myself
absorbed, at once, I find to my surprise
I’m like a new-born babe
swathed in red light
but this is no rite—serious and solemn
I waver at the window
and just because I have borrowed Its light
inwardly I murmur
my gratitude to Heaven


in the depression of afternoon
and dripping with sweat
I am writing a prayer
I lean over my desk alone
unaware of my sweat-drenched clothes

knowing that the moment is near at hand
my style becomes more responsive
after writing the word “angel”
I feel the tip of my pen lighten instantly
but when I mention “God”
it becomes a dragging, dead weight

after touching on the word “resurrection”
the ink begins to gush
from the tip of my dreary pen
the same way spring water wells

this is the moment I have looked forward to for so long
and I sense that my pen
is happier just now than I am

Enormous Appetite

on highways in the north of China
trucks loaded with chickens from Hunan
beef cattle from Jiangxi and pigs from Sichuan
make their way south to Guangzhou

there, the Pearl River delta
is like a bottomless pit
swallowing in one gulp
the animals of several provinces

swallowing in a steady stream
never shutting its mouth
the highways
are its guts

its only thought is to devour, devour
in a blanket of thick smoke
and we digest, digest
with our enormous appetites

but what will we do when we have eaten all the animals?
we’ll kill the cars, tackling them like crabs:
ripping off the carapace
and sucking out the grease


in a place my hearing cannot reach
a voice calls softly to me

in a place my seeing cannot reach
a pair of eyes watches me

in a place my skin cannot feel
 gently a hand touches me

in a place I cannot imagine
someone is missing me

Blind Girl

“Hey—” it’s her
she is looking for us
she is smiling among the flowers, so beautiful
what is she doing downstairs? outside
the world is radiant with spring again
she is the one patch of darkness in all this sun

she grins with pleasure when she sees us
she is—blind
she must have fallen in love with one of us boys

in the sunlight we are all blind
in the spring we are all blind


at those times when I plunge into despair
my heart feels
pure, calm
sensitive and rich in heightened emotions
thanks to the cleansing power of tears

at present, having left despair far behind
happiness grows less distinct
nothing moves me any more
my heart is hard as stone

I like to think of this as toughness
but my body is covered all over in bruises

In the Morning, War Broke Out

in the morning, war broke out
in the afternoon, there was no swimming
because it was still too cold
and it was still raining
which made it even colder
none of us went out to buy food
everyone phoned for home delivery

then we squeezed into one room to watch TV
the progress of the war was slow
everyone got impatient
but we stayed where we were, killing time


what will they say
if our love
stays above the waist?
Will their childish games
ever produce a result?

but if our love
shifts below the waist
they will say: They have never known
that profound touching of souls.

Slight Breeze

a slight breeze can make for
a bigger potato crop

a slight breeze can make for
prettier flowers

a slight breeze can make for
more open-minded human beings

a slight breeze can make for
clear-sighted government

provided, of course, that the corridors of power
are opened up to slight breezes

A Life

I queued up to be born: I was a second child, neglected
I queued up to go to school: I was six and wasn’t welcome
I queued up to buy rice: I watched people fighting
after queuing up to go to the toilet, we
went to bed in a set order—gee,
I experienced so many things like that as a student

they wouldn’t let me into the hospital
that year I got really sick,
so I slept in a corridor
and was often startled awake by nightmares
my tears queuing up in the dark

then I fell in love, my lovers
queued up along the river bank
I queued up for housing, queued up for the marriage licence

waiting for ages in some corner
the days slip by in a queue
like the short, colourful skirts you wear out
my whole life got lost
in the smoke of the rank and file

then there’s all the humiliation
we queue up to be cheated
or to get raped by thugs
and before any of it makes sense
our hair queues up to turn grey
wrinkles chase one another like waves, muttering
one day, all our joy and sorrows
will queue up to leave for somewhere far, far away


that spring, there was a terrible drought
no one could stop
the earth from cracking open
and spilling its shrivelled guts

mice jumped out of rice jars
not a single grain was harvested
but so as not to make the higher-ups lose hope
our considerate village headman

sent people out night after night
first to paint the ground grass-green
then to paint it gold

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