“You’re stepping on my shadow, please back off,” she said.

Sun Yisheng / Nicky Harman

The Motherland's Starry Skies (& six more poems), by Shen Haobo

Poet, publisher and venture capitalist, Shen Haobo was born in Jiangsu Province in 1976. As a poet he has sought to do-away with many of the taboos regarding explicit content; he also runs the Motie Group, one of the most influential publishing and media companies in China.

Ten more poems by Shen Haobo were published in the winter 2015 issue of Pathlight magazine.

shen haobo

SEASONS

Someone in Tokyo
is watching the cherry blossoms fall,
cinnamon red.
Someone is watching snow fall in Beijing.
A few branches from the pagoda trees along East Drum Tower Street
always crack under the weight
and fall upon the muddied sidewalk each year.
Someone in Paris
is lighting a heart-shaped candle for the dead.
Someone onboard a plane is cloud-watching.
They are white as snow,
each with their deep and shallow divots,
as if they’ve been tread on.
Next spring,
the pagoda will grow new branches
and people will flood the streets.
Not one of them will look dead.
No one has ever died,
isn’t that true?
No branch has ever backed from the tree.
The soldiers march towards us,
their shining boots have never walked through blood.
There is no country named Syria on earth.
Nor is there a Palestine.
In quiet Paris, gunshots do not
sound off in a concert hall.
Cherry blossoms bloom again in the Yasukuni Shrine
as women clad in grey professional attire
and black pantyhose
gather beneath the flowering trees
and bow down again to their heroes, year after year,
those young lives
curtailed and fleeting like the Sakura.
They never murdered in the Far East.
Nanjing was never slaughtered.

MILITARY PARADE

The leader waves from the viewing deck
like every leader that came before.
The soldiers kick-step in unison across the Square.
The women soldiers’ breasts
crest and fall, still the same measurements as in years past.
Bombers and tanks
like mosquitoes and tigers.
And those who, just yesterday, were trampled by life
into the semblance of pigs and dogs,
suddenly catch a viral patriotism,
standing before televisions, eyes full of hot tears,
ready to run, at a moment’s notice, for the flag
and swear by it.

NIGHT IN THE REPUBLIC

The night is much crueler than history, with a roll of a tongue
every lampless place disappears.
Mountaintops not far from here, stand as if they’ve never existed.
The tallest building on this island —
looking out from 101 Tower’s glassy walls,
Taipei is a light, iridescent feather
or a thin, pearl-encrusted shell
even a flat, well-lit balcony.
This light, thin, flat piece
floating in the ocean
has such an enormous, tear-jerking name
— Republic of China.

THE MOTHERLAND’S STARRY SKIES

The first day
a poet
writes a poem
and posts it on an online forum
We discover a phrase
has become *
In context
we deduce
and discover that this *
represents the phrase “human rights”

Ah, in our motherland
“human rights” is a sensitive term
Of course, of course
Understandable, understandable

The second day
a poet returning from Tibet
writes a poem
and posts it on an online forum
We discover another phrase
has become *
In context
we see that this *
stands for “living buddha”

Huh. In our motherland
“living buddha” is also a sensitive term?
I contemplated for a while
Ah, I suppose so
Understandable, understandable

The third day
a Yunnan poet commits suicide
Many people write poetry in eulogy
The forum transforms into the hall for a wake
And the wake was like a starry midnight sky
countless stars shining and shining
* * * * * * * * * * * *
* * * * * * * * * * * *
As if the dead raised their lanterns

The * this time
is for “suicide”

The night after this poet died
I crouch before my computer
and look up at the motherland’s starry skies
my neck pained as can be

Poems from the “THE JOURNEY OF THE DIRGE” Cycle

You Must Get Well

The illness is a poisoning sun
scorching my heart
that once beat voraciously
and was fleshy, sturdy
is now roasted into
a brittle, yellow leaf
And thought is but
a small and ruthless worm
that bobs up and down the surface
reemerging, bite by bite
You must get well
Only when you do
will these chewed out holes
on my heart heal
once more
and I can then
go on forgetting you

When I Remember Your Illness

I am submerged in the deep waters of air
Your illness lies beneath my feet
like a stony crocodile
that occasionally opens its mouth, terrifying me
As long as it doesn’t bite down on my leg
you are safe

The Final Light

You are
dissipating
Time’s white moths
are flying out
from your body

The sisters from church
surround your bed
sing tenderly
the hymns
like lullabies

But you no longer
hear them
Your dissipating soul
is coagulating into
a golden sparrow
It is flying out
wings outstretched

Your soul moves upwards
Time moves downwards
A cluster of white moths
fly and interweave
under the wings
of the golden sparrow

Just then
a white butterfly
leaves its cocoon
and pauses
motionless
on your face

The hymns
are poured
into that final light

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