Split Spring

Read Paper Republic – Epidemic

I first spotted these poems on the blog page of the Sichuan poet Zhai Yongming, and was immediately struck by them. Lin Bai, poet and novelist, was born in Guangxi, lives in Beijing, but retains strong ties to Wuhan, where she studied. Special thanks to Dave Haysom for the translations. Nicky Harman

Split Spring

Translator’s Note: “Split Spring” is a literal translation of 春分 chunfen (Spring Equinox), the fourth of the twenty-four solar terms

This spring has truly been split in two.
One half in the old year,
The other
On this side of the mask.

How I long to sing about the flowers of before,
The rapeseed flower, most of all.
I wish I could gather the rapeseed
At Hubei’s Mulan Lake.
Though the golden yellow
Is retreating fast.

Skin and flesh turn to dust.
Spring Equinox is still three days away,
But the Lunar year has sharpened the blade
And it has left its mark on me.

(Afternoon, March 17th, 2020)

Apple

This apple on the table is the last one.
Never have I formed such a bond with an apple,
From January, through February,
To March Twentieth.

The faint fragrance consoles me
This is a collapse I can comprehend.
At a distance that fluctuates
You open a polychromatic fist
And I see poetry
In the browning core.

Your colours enrapture me.
Pale yellow, turmeric gold, orange,
A juice that contains all of creation,
And jolts me beyond myself.

I think, surreally, of Cézanne,
His apples and dish.
So loud, those colours,
And such a muted reply.

I cannot help thinking
Of Rilke’s letter on Cézanne:
The interior quivers,
It rises and it falls.
How difficult it is to get close to the facts.

(March 20th, 2020: Spring Equinox. The final three lines are a quotation from Rilke.)

Silent

But not completely silent.
The line is long,
More than three thousand people.
This must be one section.

A metre gap between each of them,
Heads all bowed, playing with phones.
Even the sound from a phone
Would not break the silence.

The ashes are silent,
and silent are their palpitations.

On the road to a casket
There are no ordinary sounds.

(March 26th, 2020. Written in response to a photo of a line of people queuing outside the Hankou mortuary to collect cremated remains. Two days later, I heard from a friend that this mortuary is a mere two hundred metres away from Hehuayuan, where I live.)

Comments

# 1.   

Thanks Nicky, thanks Dave Haysom, I was despairing to find anyhting to read beyond the present bleak lockdown stories. I've read lots of Lin Bai's duan and zhongpian, and I love the way she leaves her characters in a kind of light haze, which makes them all the more endearing. Now these poems are of the samel ilk. They made my day, really.

Brigitte Duzan, May 1, 2020, 6:38p.m.

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