Zhang Zao (1962-). Translated by Simon Patton.
The Infinite Umbrella The Chairs Sit out in the Winter . . . Subway Harp Lily Magnolia Midnight’s Bread Elegy Edge
Top floor, language lab. Autumn arrives with a bang, its radiance puts the universe’s new glass in all four walls; everyone’s wearing headphones, expressions of jade solidarity. The pregnant teacher also listens in. The treasured relics of slurred sound: “evening paper, evening paper”, the magnetic tape whizzing in around the globe. Anxious words, unwilling to pass away, like streetscapes and fountains, like visitors from outer space entrenched on some border fondling sunset glow before abruptly releasing a bolt of brocade beauty: the void is no more than a flower! She looks at the surrounding new situation—a loom in everyone’s mouth, now murmuring exactly the same fine story. Everyone’s immersed in their listening, everyone’s organs exposed, working completely unawares.
so many words so many words I am destined never to know so many shadows I cannot ride into winter in this life I will probably not Take to the greenwood but who knows? that day I reached the summit a cold wind blew what I wanted was to stand on tiptoe and feel the kite’s wandering heart I was forsaken. once I played a game of chess with myself not long after, I went mad. I want to be a telescope in a submarine, choking with idle resentment when the others are dead I would rather be that ferry man out somewhere secluded, secluded, landscape as of yore by rights a multi-dimensional space, but what kind of kitchen smoke should waft gracefully at my temples? China, look there, in the distance, a mantis is scurrying off to paste up slogans among the dead, there’s a goal-keeper who once in slow-motion was unable to utter a sound. when the birthday candles are all blown out someone says: “I present you with a ballet danced by a virgin” umbrella. in a corner, wrapped up tightly in a membrane intact. here, in this nowhere land, there should be a patch of rainscape opening up. o life, quickly, hand it to me now
The Chairs Sit out in the Winter . . .
The chairs sit out in the winter, all in all three of them—coldness being muscle— spaced out in a line, terrified of logic. Among angels, there are not three who could sit themselves down in them, waiting for the barber who skates across a river of ice, though ahead is still a large mirror, magpies tidying away small coins. The wind’s weaving loom weaves the surroundings. The Void is Lord, remote he stands on the outskirts, exhaling warm air, features painted heavily, counting the chairs: without touching it, he could eliminate that middle position, if he were to transplant that chair on the left all the way to the farthest right, forever— Such an assassin at the heart of the universe. Suddenly, in among the three chairs, that unwarranted fourth chair, the one and only, also sits out in the winter. Just as it was that winter . . . . . . I love you.
Let us stop in mid-journey, no light either side The cutlery ghosts of the dining car pinging wildly Or let us walk out onto ground level Living corpses dead on escalators I remain your groom. Verging on thirty My index fingers trying their best to put on weight A drunken monkey peach in my pocket Me: just one of the human race, more mysterious than flame Ten years later, walking out onto ground level from faraway Sidling up to a shaking desk to write you A love letter. California's eight o’clock ladies-style jacket Lightly sugared sunlight licking dark circles under your eyes You walk out onto ground level, and when I shift aside the vase Evolution’s shadow glues the heels of multi-coloured Masks together. The evening bell tolls, lying itself down In a glass of overturned milk: oh, harp The milk harp tunes its strings tightly earthwards Stretched to breaking point and, when I vacantly occupy the bedside I seem to touch that locomotive speeding on its way to you Strumming like some strange monster a separate reality
my darling noonday, the magnolia drops her gaze, serenely dreaming she dreams of me standing on tip-toe before her like a phantom she makes out the can of water I hold, poison to all but her and in her face I cannot find the slightest shred of fear while she now senses how I loathe myself so deeply loathe this blood, these nerves, these pores, the look of my ears, my constricted heart; one moment she understands that I’m plainly only a man; soon after she reminds herself that I’ve lounged beside windows staring at others, or switched on lights and passed through doors to penetrate still deeper places and so she sheds pretending flowers, or makes the best of a gently gusting breeze in clear skies, or a peal of thunder, to dance me from her skin, from her uneasy heart
October went by; no, I didn’t go mad the fog at the window rolls like a baby but there’s still no sign of the one thing I’ve waited for all my life. if I were the quiet although wrapped in a coat, then that bread would still come and eat me who sent this bread? that boy is me, bike propped upside down on the ground when, with his hands, he desperately makes the pedals go round I devour that fluid flying free-wheel muscle who was it who sent the disasters? dialectics? over the butchered and eviscerated the dead rise, eyes filled with cotton I could eat myself if I were the silence
a letter opens, someone says: the weather’s turned cold another letter opens it’s empty, empty but heavier than the world a letter opens someone says: he sings at the tops of his lungs from the mountain someone says: no, even if the potato died the inertia living inside it would still bring forth tiny hands another letter opens you sleep soundly as a tangerine but someone, after peeling you of your nakedness, says: he has touched another you another letter opens they’re all laughing out loud everything around them guffaws endlessly a letter opens a cloud-natural, river-smooth style on the rampage outdoors a letter opens I chew over certain darknesses another letter opens a bright moon hung in the sky after another letter opens, it shouts: death is real
Like a tomato hiding on the edge of a steelyard he is always lying down. Something flashes past, a warning or a swallow, but he doesn’t budge, maintaining his place beside small objects. The second hand moves to 10 on the dot, an alarm clock departs in the distance. A cigarette also goes, taking with it several pairs of misshapen blue handcuffs. His glasses, clouds, German locks. In a word, everything that hadn’t gone has now left. Emptiness, enlarged. He is still further removed, but always on some edge: the edge of cog-wheels, the edge of water, the edge of his own self. He looks often into the sky, index finger pointing into the air, practising a spidery, delirious calligraphy: “Come back!” Sure enough, all those things that lost their shape regain their original form: the windows of a new housing development are full of evening wind the moon is brewing a large barrel of golden beer. The steelyard tilts with a violent jerk, there, without limit like a becalmed lion reclining beside the tomato.
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