p o e m s  

g u  c h e n g

don’t go to sleep, don’t
Dear, the road is long yet
don’t go too near
the forest’s enticements, don’t lose hope

write the address
in snowmelt on your hand
or lean on my shoulder
as we pass the hazy morning

lifting the transparent storm curtain
we’ll arrive at where we are from
a green disk of land
around an old pagoda

there I will guard
your weary dreams
and drive off the flocks of nights
leaving only bronze drums, and the sun

as beyond the pagoda
tiny waves quietly
crawl up the beach
and draw back trembling


It was a loess road in winter,
lined with stones.
The dust lay at rest in the indifferent sun,
keeping warm in winter’s cold.
Tired of walking,
you said: “Don't see that empty house.
Maybe it's gone. Let's sit a while
on this embankment.”

I knew the dried grass on this embankment.
With their broken blades offering
all that they had, their feelings,
they said to me:
“In the night, everything can change.
The gentlest breeze can turn into a beast,
loosing howl after wild howl.”
They said: “Don't sit too long.”
But you were sleeping
lightly against my shoulder.
Your brown hair spread across my chest
so placidly,
too tired even to stir in the breeze.
And the sun couldn’t wait.
As its sympathetic eye dimmed
I lost the language to wake you.

It was a loess road in winter.
Night was growing in the shadows.
The first star didn’t cry;
it held back golden tears.
Lightly you leaned on my shoulder,
in the warmth of my breathing.
Your lips quivered, talking in a dream.
I know, you were asking your mama's forgiveness.

–October 1981


people sleep lightly in the dark of night
and sleep soundly in daytime

lids drooping they smile
turn their faces and go
parasols turn too
flowers bloom skirts
lax lovers
lie on green sofas in a daze
fat babies and mothers sleep on stones
dusty boys draw up their legs
mumbling that they want to go see the black bear
old men ream tobacco pipes
opening their mouths painfully wide

the sun too sleeps soundly
breathing among pale blue flames
motionless as they flicker
the clouds are asbestos
the lead is brand new
silver distorted pain
glitters in each grain of sand

and the night hasn’t moved
in the photo studio
a wind coolly blows
behind smiles of every dimension
a wind coolly blows
the dust is getting sleepy
the camera's empty magazine is empty


the crying lasted long through the night
when the sun rose
the raindrops glittered
before steaming away
I didn't wipe the glass
I knew that the sky was blue
and the trees were out there, comparing their hair
clacking their castanets
pretending to be huge predatory insects

it all is so distant

once we were weak as morning cicadas
with wet wings
the leaves were thick, we were young
knowing nothing, not wanting to know
knowing only that dreams could drift
and lead us to the day
clouds could walk in the wind
lakewater could gather light
into a glinting mirror
we looked at the green green leaves
I still don't want to know
haven't wiped the glass
ink-green waves of summer rise and fall
oars knock
fish split the shining current
a red-swimsuit laughter keeps fading

it all is so distant
that summer still lingers
the crying has stopped



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