Four Poems by Jiang Tao

translated by Josh Stenberg

Jiang Tao (姜涛, born 1970) is a Beijing poet and literary critic and the author of four slender collections of selected and new poems: 鸟经 (Bird scripture), 好消息 (Good news), 我们共同的美好生活 (Our beautiful life together), and 洞中一日 (A day in the cave). Over time, his work has developed from suites and longer poems to briefer and more focused forms that make use of unsettling shifts of tone and perspective and ambiguous grammar. A dry, dispassionate stranger seems to narrate Jiang Tao’s poems, playful and careful in equal parts. His keenness to unsettle is social as well as formal—and although the setting is China, the poems are always cosmopolitan and frequently global or even geopolitical in subtle ways. Suburban lifestyles, the suspicion and exploitation between the sexes, the superficiality of consumption, the self-medication of the urban maelstrom, technological obsession, social alienation, and the hangovers of ideology are all as recognizable to Anglophone readers as they are to Chinese ones. The tininess of the individual is measured not only against the ruins of nature but also against the vastness of society, with the ecological apocalypse sharing space with older crises of existentialism. Measured in output and expression, worldly in tone and experience, sensitive to social change and the dogmas of national development, Jiang Tao’s poetry is an innovative depiction of urban malaise.

–Josh Stenberg


See Original Language See Translation

opera info

the way someone used to solitude is uncomfortable at parties
the rose in the loudspeaker innocently seeks a lush garden of flowers
while applause streams up from the last row of reefs
even the ocean may have no such refinements: between ear and
storm stands a sympathetic screen
josephine the singer or someone else, we don’t care who’s
whose cousin, just like your tenderness
may still regard the opposite sex as a graceful shopping bag
it all matters very little, trading plums for peaches
in any case each soul should be as sentimental as
an orchard after the pesticide spray
look! the weepy post-curtain-fall posture has
already been printed in the program (having
undergone the relevant checks and gotten the birds’ endorsement)
relax, in the dead air of the receiver
the protagonist’s drab youth will not persist
singing she keeps rubbing her armpits with a rag
that sweat, suffusing the salt of eros
one may watch like a gecko from dangerous corners of the opera’s ceiling
the misfortune we chatted about just now backstage
which, when compared to the phone hanging from the patroness’ waist,
is as alike as can be, yet daintier and more delicate.

 

winter solstice

for even longer than a game of chess, white approaches
the tree-shaded road that’s culled all of the ankles
no one nears rashly where the sun walks
but they still seem to have the energy to take this step
changing into summer short-sleeve shirts in november
swallowing a scarlet throat—it mustn’t grow feverish
or more urgent overnight, on account of
the unseen waterfall, always rushing down upon us and
the other group of people sitting across from the world
who have finished their beer, and will always rise
or sit and watch, from the dark foundation, from the sky
as they clear the rubble from over their heads

 

to the ends of the earth

who can take me from october
maintaining my composure, the way a filthy
red is excised. the sun is a speckle
labor softens people
please turn the music down, even when the flesh
has been gnawed clean, there’s teeth marks on the leftovers
who will take away what’s left of form
like removing a used match
charred, though not fully burnt
on the outskirt’s streets, looking at birds
constantly replenishing fuel
constantly taking aspirin
some luck, medical treatment
is ineffective, singing is strenuous
and who will lead “to the ends of the earth”
like a white horse, neighing,
away from me

 

things that travel by night

some people claim that if you rub dust from a leaf
you’ll find out the leaf was a dressing mirror
this mirror does not shine, it rejects reflection
dark green veins, like seal after engraved seal
secretly etching a family background

that’s why they fly here from all around
along the railroad tracks, bridge arches, great unfinished beams
that rise and fall, along the
rank stench of wild things,
once on the reservoir’s surface they dipped their faces to wash
or maybe wore hard hats

split into several small groups, their bodies mired
in conversation, face stuck to face
their sweet nothings mostly real
and saved on their cell phones
delivered to the starry sky or ethnic essence
overnight the brain downloads them
painfully swollen

but outside the five ring roads, it’s like europe in collapse
darkness after sheet of darkness
all those castles, towns, fortresses
as they soar past I hear
the faint engine’s roar
hear the lowering of the crane’s boom

and smell the atmosphere
like it’s been sprayed with cheap air freshener
you say that’s smog lifting?
no,
it’s magma surging
not so far away, warming the jinyu gardens

grass in the brick cracks, the lights about to blaze
someone rubbing their legs together
about to speak in a lovely beijing twang.

歌剧见闻

像一个习惯孤独的人在晚会上浑身不适
那束玫瑰在音箱里天真地寻找百花园
而掌声从最后一排礁石传来
大海也不见得有这样的风雅:在耳朵和
暴雨之间竖起同情心的屏风
女歌手斯蒂芬或其他,我们不在乎
谁是谁的表亲,恰似你的温柔
还是把身边异性伙伴当作一只苗条的购物袋
都无关大局,投桃报李
反正每颗心灵都该伤感得象
喷洒农药后的果园
你看!幕布垂下后哭泣的身姿
早已经印在节目单上(经过了
有关方面的审核以及小鸟们的认同)
放心吧,在话筒的盲音里
主人公乏味的青春期不会拖延得太久
歌唱在不停地用抹布擦拭她的腋下
那些汗水,浸透了色情的盐
而从剧院顶棚一只壁虎危险的角度看
适才你我在后台谈论的不幸
与贵宾腰部悬垂的迷你手机相比
虽伯仲难分,但仍小巧玲珑

 

冬至日

比棋局还要漫长,白色迫近
一条林荫路摘光了脚踝
太阳走着的地方,没人轻易靠近
但似乎还有力气,迈出这一步
在十一月换上夏天的短袖衫
自己咽下腥红的喉——不让它发热
在夜间变得更为迫切,因为
看不见的瀑布,时刻倾泻着我们
与世界对坐的另一群人
喝完了啤酒,也总会起身
或在黑暗的地基中,坐着观天
把头顶的瓦砾一片片挪开

 

天涯

有谁能把我带出十月
不动声色,如同带走一团
肮脏的红色。太阳是个斑点
劳动让人柔软
请把音量调小,当肉体
被啃光,齿痕留在了余粮上
谁会把剩下的形式带走
像带走一小把火柴的梗
焦黑的、没烧完的
在郊外的公路上,看小鸟
不断在补充燃料
不断吃阿司匹林
这是怎样的幸运,医治
是无效的,唱歌是费劲的
谁又将“天涯”
像一匹白马,萧萧叫着
牵离了我身边

 

夜行的事物

有人声称,擦去树叶上的灰尘
叶子本是梳妆镜
这镜子本无光,拒绝反射
暗绿的花纹,就是一枚枚图章
私刻了出身

所以,他们从四外飞来
沿了铁路、桥洞、未完工的巨梁
时起时落的,还有沿途
那些臭烘烘的野味儿
他们曾在水库上,蘸水洗脸
或戴了安全帽

被分成若干小组,泥泞了身子
在讨论中,脸贴脸
他们的悄悄话多半是真的
被存进了手机
被发送在星空和民族性里
被肿痛的小脑
连夜下载

可这五环以外,有点像溃乱的欧洲
黑魆魆的一片片
都是古堡、小镇、要塞
他们飞过时,我似乎听到了
引擎轻轻的轰鸣
听到了起重臂的落下

也闻到大气芬芳
仿佛喷洒了便宜的清新剂
你说那是雾霾再起?
不是的,不是
地火在涌动
在不远处,温热了金隅花园

草丛与砖缝里,即将灯火通明
有人摩擦两股
即将说出漂亮的京白。

Published on October 6, 2022

2022-10-20T12:48:04-04:00