Sunday, March 14, 2010

Fan Jinghua: The Southern Mountain

    The Southern Mountain
               In Memory of Zhang Zao (1962-2010)
I am moving my books these days, and every morning I drag along
my wheeled suitcase, from home to new office
with BBC world news hanging on my ears, some updates being non-updates
and some uttered merely to be forgotten
My automatic movements in one breath: opening the door, switching on the lights, flipping on the air-con,
and pushing the window open to drive away the stale overnight air…
Then, in the pantry I make my first coffee for the day
among the bubbles of good-mornings, as my sweaty shirt dries
Back to the desk between the closed door and window, within the increasingly stagnant air of today

This is a tropical island state, all the climates in the world far away…
My day starts with one or two ancient Chinese poems, usually in English translation
without the original, and I uses the foreign tongue to lick out of my inner-body my mother tongue
There is in this an interflow between the light and the heavy, and their alternation sends my day adrift
This morning session collides with these lines:
“The melancholy of the Southern Mountain,
Ghostly rain drizzling on desolate grass!
Back in Chang-an, this autumn midnight,
How many men are withering in this wind? ……
Lacquer torches are out to welcome newcomers,
Over lonely tombs the fireflies are flickering.”
I am imagining the short-lived genius in ancient Chang-an who was in the dead midnight of autumn imagining
Those clay steamed-buns in the Southern Mountain with ghostly winds wandering between
(Some said the stuffing of those buns were alive in the city, withering like vegetables)
and many invisible arms holding faint torches, will o’ the wisp
But whose solitude is ogling whom? What kind of troops are hiding behind the immortal pines?

This morning of mine starts with a little sadness…
My coffee is merely half done, getting colder and colder

The computer is on: Zhang Zao is dead…

I haven’t met you, Zhang Zao, and you have not even heard of me, but I know you
I read your poems, but have never read in the morning yet
Today I read Li He’s “How sad is the Southern Mountain,” not the least realizing
That news of your death would carry your sentences
And out of blue weld and clutch unto my favourite Li He—
“Whenever something regretful in my life strikes me,
Plum petals will scatter all over the Southern Mountain”
(A sentence, in English, also means a pronouncement of conviction;
My semantic domain too covers more than one language, but both you and I dwell in Chinese)
Ever since now the ghosts welcoming newcomers become the arms embracing you, those torches…

I am walking to and fro on the carpet, feet shoeless but socked, with ghostly raindrops in my mind
And a sip of coffee crawls down like a freezing rillet along my gullet…
How I wish I could light a cigarette—not for you
but I want to loosen the curtains and turn off the lights so I will suck out some glisters like fireflies
to cast some drops of light on the desolate grass. Are they your plum petals or my traceless footprints?

Standing still before the shelves, I look at these books transferred from home to office, from one shelf to another
seeing that they have lost their former neighbours and taken a new space
and that they are still holding the same mass and content. Still but have to…

I can pick out any of them, read it, and then put it back to any place
Thus, I may be their god, unless they link themselves together with strong captions on their backbones
               March 11, 2010

1. Zhang Zao, male, was born in 1962 in Hunan Province and got his BA in English in Chongqing and then went in 1988 to teach in Tubingen German where he died for lung cancer on March 8, 2010. He was a great poet who helped contributing to the concept of a post-Mao contemporary Chinese poetry. The quoted two lines are from his early famous poem entitled “Mirror.”
2. Li He ()was one of the best romantic Gothic poet in late Tang period. The quoted lines are translated by J D Fordsham in his Goddesses, Ghosts and Demons: The Collected Poems of Li He. The translation is, of course, not “literal,” and the original Chinese reads as:
  南south 山mountain何how其such 悲sad
  长安Chang-an (literally “eternal peace,” capital of Tang China, now Xi’an) 夜night半middle秋autumn
  风wind前front, before几how many人person老old ……
  漆lacquer 炬torch 迎welcome新new人person
  幽faint, dim圹tomb 萤firefly扰扰a state of harassing & disturbing
3. The Southern Mountain, also known as Zhongnan Mountain, is said to be a place for tombs, where grow a lot of pines. Pines are believed to a long-living trees, with their wrinkled barks. Pine is a symbol of longevity. Hence, Chinese people still say the auspicious couplet to an elderly on his/her birthday party: May bliss bestow upon you like the water in the Eastern Sea and longevity outlive the pines in the Southern Mountain (愿你福如东海寿比南山).


The melancholy of the Southern Mountain,
Ghostly rain drizzling on desolate grass!
Back in Chang-an, this autumn midnight,
How many men are withering in this wind? ……
Lacquer torches are out to welcome newcomers,
Over lonely tombs the fireflies are flickering.






注:诗中所引英文摘自J. D. Frodsham所译的Goddess, Ghosts, and Demons: The Collected Poems of Li He 《女神、鬼魂与恶魔:李贺诗全集》。这几行诗的原文如下:

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