zhang er



He Ping / PeaceRiver


It shouldn’t be written this way, peace. Then how about ChurnRiver?   SeaChurn?
No, dear, it doesn’t sound right, not as pleasing as He Ping, nor so peaceful.

Because you, because reasons unexplainable: build dam, construct bridge,
the resulting piles of leftover steel, burnt out machinery, mounds of dirt and trash, pile up
new orders quick quick, just as solid. Useful.

Earrings without hooks, necklace colors faded, the unevenness due to lost stitches—
sentences shrink, become incoherent, their sponginess lost.

Better drop everything: traditional underpants, personal involvement,
a drowning hen with flapping wings, sadness as it heaves.

What do you think? That the new life is still the old life?
the life we always wanted, but kept in balance?

Think fixed routine and balanced fluidity make for transcendence?
Home. A train tries to escape from an old gramophone record.

Difficult to touch a curving chest, therefore paint a landscape
breathing. You point to the table cloth, is that your sampan?

Sampan, carrying a blackened mat, tiny shed and a few shapeless whatchamacallits.
Where are we sitting? Let's discuss the best angle from which to observe, what, thin
metal pails?

Watch hills from river, watch river from boat. Hills move.
River flows. Yet you say your boat doesn’t change: blackened shed, metal pail.

Turning your eyes, the scenery has already become an old photo facing you
drifting down the river of time.  Suddenly the photo starts to move! The figure stretches!

Take off your blue shirt and let me see your sixteen year-old skin.
Seduce. (You weren’t even born then!  But I can still imagine, can’t I?)

Change the angle, is that more pleasurable? Don’t lie down on my stomach.
The banner has been taken down, get rid of the flag pole too. Find a view.

Do you believe in God? The New Testament plus Moses’ Ten Commandments equals
Tropic of Cancer and The Dream of the Red Chamber— It's all Belief….

…the same romance. You've got to be in the right mood to buy a big house, or chat
quantum mechanics genetic engineering middle-east gunfire Koran and Diamond Sutra…

come on, it will take all the ropes in the world to pull me out of this river—
to set up camp, push toes into the grave, fall fall in love, lose lose love, put it all right
here in writing

and erasing. The scenery can’t steady the reality, yet won’t blow away
the peace either. He Ping.
          Setting sun licks wet
                    newly written short sentences
                              resplendent in jade and gold.

(translation by Bob Holman)






The cook makes the sauce— "Shua"!
hot pot encounters cold tomato
homeland. A tiny spot of
memory bitter like tea leaves clings
to the worn spoon.
Scarlet ribbon wrappings layer over layer,
way way beyond exotic.
They are handing out menus again.
In and out, practice the union
of east and west. You
stand outside the door
waiting for that man
to walk out of your heart.

Let him wait, pitilessly let him wait
till the oil heats up, thick smoke rises,
serve bowl after bowl:
Yang Chow
even Singapore fried rice…
she diligently translates
fried eggs, already overcooked
but still translating.
Want some shredded meat huh?
Hot sauce huh?
Sit still like a good student.
Answer, I want it soft and slow.
How much time do I have?
When it strikes 12 midnight
you will change back to the cook’s wife
cleaning the table, sweeping the floor.

Drink it first, peel
down taste layer after layer:
dark vegetation, naked soil
roots buried deep, water source.
An effortless touch, such tacit thread.
You are wet
You are wet too
all over
long bench in the garden, stone bridge
he stands, wheezing, checking the scenery
motionless in the rain
black and white
She tentatively presses down the save key,
hits return. Now finally
spoon out the flamboyant oil,
tender yellow fried egg emerges
from the soup bowl with matching plate.
Coriander leaves?

Bare feet, little girl style
pajama scallion green
comes downstairs
embraced by such a love
kept in the mouth
wet, dripping
how did you come here?
how did you find such
a creative way
to keep warm?
Secret channel:
a dare to go down
and more, a patience to wait
I want to swallow you.
Noodles dripping wet.

(translation by Bob Holman)



ZHANG ER was born in Beijing, China and moved to New York city in 1986.  The full length collection of her poetry Seen, Unseen was published by QingHai Publishing House of China in 1999 and Water Words was published by New World Poetry Press in 2002.  Her poems have also appeared in English translation in many poetry journals.  Her chapbooks in translation, Winter Garden (Goats and Compasses), Verses on Bird (Jensen/Daniels), The Autumn of Gu Yao (Spuyten Duyvil), Cross River . Pick Lotus (Belladonna Books), and Carved Water (Tinfish Press) were published in recent years.  Verses on Bird, Zhang Er's selected poems in a Chinese and English bilingual edition was published by Zephyr Press in the summer of 2004.  She currently teaches at The Evergreen State College in Washington.

BOB HOLMAN's eighth and ninth books are A Couple of Ways of Doing Something, a collaboration with Chuck Close (Art of this Century/Pace Editions), and Carved Water (Tinfish), his translations of the poetry of Zhang Er.  He is a Visiting Professor of Writing at Columbia University and the Proprietor of the Bowery Poetry Club.  He is the Artistic Director of Study Abroad on the Bowery, an applied poetics program launched in 2005, and publisher of Bowery Poetry Press.