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Darkening Mirror: New and Selected Poems by Wang Jiaxin

Edited & Translated by Diana Shi & George O’Connell

Published by Tebot Bach        ISBN 978-1-939678-22-5

Table of Contents

Foreword: Robert Hass —1
Introduction: George O’Connell —15

Reversal (1985–1991)

Étude —20
Scorpion —21
Landscape —22
Meeting Rain, Wutai Mountain —23
Empty Canyon —24
The Knife —25
Autumn —26
What Place —27
A Man Splitting Wood for Winter —28
Train Station —29
Stairs —30
Brightness —31
Transformation —32
Varykino Ballad —33
Reversal —36

Darkening Mirror (1992–2003)

Another Landscape —40
Diary —43
London Notes —44
Prague —49
Traveler —50
Forty-Second Summer —51
Eugene, Snow —52
Taking My Son to the Shore —53
The Death of Brodsky —55
Mr. Nabokov —56
Glenn Gould —57
Spring Festival, 1998 —59
August 17th, Rain —62
Frostbite, December 7th —64

Winter Poems —65
Early Youth —69
Cuckoo —76
Notes from the Castle of Solitude —77
Darkening Mirror —82

Tangerines (2004–2008)

Pastoral 86
Tang Xuan Zang in Qiu Ci, 628 AD —87
Under Ayilanishi Snow Mountain —89
The Last Days of Octavio Paz —90
Limitations —91
Simple Autobiography —92
Evening Scene —93
Returning to Shang Yuan Village from Downtown —94
Tangerines —95
Night Train —96
Legend —97
Old Age —98
The Art of Poetry —99
Answering the Dutch Poet Pfeijffer’s “Obscure Poems
      Are After All Better Than Those Easy to Read” —100
For Emily Dickinson: A Late Dedication —102
In Upstate New York —103
A Beer with My Son —104
First Snow —105
Mourning a Friend —106
Grapefruit —107

Notes Out of Season (2009–2014)

Gotland’s Dusk —110
Tarkovsky’s Tree —111
Tomas Tranströmer —112
Kumbum Monastery —114
Rewriting an Old Poem —115

Written New Year’s Day —116
Ice Fishing —117
Names of Places —118
Coarse Sand, Fine Sand —119
Island Climate —120
Outer Lingding Island —121
Fishmouth Peninsula —122
Notes Out of Season —124
Oysters —125
Memories of the Future —126
Dawn —127

Biographical Notes —128

Pastoral

On the country roads outside Beijing
you’re sure to spot sheep
scattered over fields, like unmelted snow
or swollen blooms burst open.
They cross the road in clumps,
the herdsman barking them down
a weedy ditch, tripping and tumbling
through the dust.

I never paid much attention
until one afternoon
in flurries of snow
I nosed close behind a sheep truck,
the dark eyes gazing down
gentle and quiet, not knowing
where they were headed.
They turned toward me then,
curious as children.

I let the car drift back
through the thickening curtain of snow
and watched them disappear.

 

Transformation

Seasons change overnight,
before you know it
the wind against your face so cold
you turn back in the yard,
the buffeting sky
impossibly blue.

Suddenly you’re old,
withered, utterly changed,
shuffling through a swirl of fallen leaves.
After the night’s storm
the cask of the heart, half-empty,
sloshes at each step.

Yet wind thrills through the season,
tearing at the clouds,
the sky lofting higher, vaster,
always carrying something off,
the smallest chink in the rooftiles
filling with moans, voicing what was still,
urgent, blowing.

Few days left.
The dead leaves whirl,
in the distance
parched whispers of the trees,
the murmuring human surf, traffic
heading in one direction.

The wind’s weight
finds your bones,
in a single night
changing everything,
snatching up your heart.
Hold on tight.
It’s time to stand in the wind
or surrender.

 

Tangerines

All winter he eats tangerines,
sometimes at the table,
sometimes on a bus.
Sometimes, as he’s eating,
snow falls inside the bookcase.
Sometimes instead of eating,
he simply peels, slowly,
as if something lives within.

So he eats tangerines all winter,
and while eating recalls a novel
in which the heroine also brought to the table
a dish of tangerines. One kept rolling
till the end of the story.
But he can’t name the author.
He simply eats the tangerine in silence.
The peels on his windowsill rise higher.

At last an image comes, several tangerines,
in childhood, placed near his hospital bed.
His mother had found them somewhere.
Though his little brother begged one, mother refused.
Still, he shared, but neither
would eat the last tangerine,
which stayed on the night stand.

Who knows what became of it?

So he eats tangerines all winter,
especially on snowy days, gray days.
He eats slowly, as if
there’s plenty of time,
as if he’s devouring darkness.
He eats, peels, and when he lifts his head,
snow glitters at the window.

 

First Snow

Whatever joy the first snow brought
has long subsided. Falling without end
across upstate New York,
beyond the window
snow mantles snow,
white fact cancels white fact.
Your days fill with snow.
For one unaccustomed to boots,
just stepping outside is trouble.
My wife and son head off for their sweet nap,
his bike,“Red Rock-It”,
propped at the stoop,
half-buried.
The washer thrums and spins,
the apples on the table at peace,
the English-Chinese dictionary at peace.
My steps
measuring the stillness
more silent.
A glance toward the snowy hills, distant, veiled.

 

Mourning a Friend

for Yu Hong

What debts your death erased, I’ll pay.
Snow falling through a winter afternoon
and the wild chrysanthemums of home
will look after what love you recovered.
In a single moment, your smile
has set into a cipher.
The overland bus from Manhattan to Hamilton
keeps its usual pace,
but writing
even half a line of elegy
escapes me.

Down the frozen December road
of this far country

 

Oysters

Party’s over. On the seaside table
a few oysters left,
large, unopened.

Heading back in the car, someone says
the ones you can’t open
taste best.
No one laughs
or likely considers what it means.
At night the surf sounds heavy.
Through dark pine woods
our car weaves onward.


my suitcase
tugs and rumbles.

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