Gu Cheng
(translated by Aaron Crippen)


       According to tradition, huadiao is buried underground
       on a couple’s wedding day and, after sixty years,
       uncovered as fine Shaoxing wine.

the dome of my skull is full and shiny
holding fire and springwater
amber thoughts
juice of poems, heavy fragrance of dreams
obscurest entreaties and benedictions
this memory comes from rice-seeded
fields shining like pottery,
from root cellars, the breathing of milk vetch
the nameless grass' complexion
sails and history scattered in the earth
as the red nuptial candle flickered
I was buried, not to be mourned
but to be born
this is a custom brought on the monsoon
and a secret between lovers
I hear falling leaves, the churning plow, the tamper's thump
hear the cicada and the pupa shedding
hear the worm and the mole's questioning caresses
(they imagine me to be
a giant conch on an ancient shore)
and my makers?
the opening of doors and half-doors
the splitting of firewood, a child's bell,
gradually heavier footfalls, memories
I have no way to hear
yearning, in yearning maturing
like a subterranean root
—forgotten by sunlight, lacking gay fruit
with mouth tightly sealed
the mellowest love has clarified
I fantasize of that giddy moment
of white hair and squeaky laughter
when pouring my spirit
into the fleeting still
I breathe into blue sky and stars

Previously published in Antigonish Review

Gu Cheng (1956-1993) was a figurehead of the Obscure or "Misty" school of Chinese poetry. Associated with Bei Dao and Shu Ting at the underground Today magazine, he burst onto the Beijing literary scene during the Democracy Wall movement of 1979 and gained popularity until by 1986 he was literally being mobbed by fans at his readings. In 1998 a film based on his life, entitled The Poet, was released in Hong Kong.

Name: Aaron Crippen
Location: Houston, Texas
Occupation: Writer and translator
Awards: 2001 PEN Texas Literary Award for Poetry, 2001 American Translators Association Student Award

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