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Hsia Yü

Four poems

translated by Steve Bradbury

¶   Bringing Her a Basket of Fruit (with audio)
¶   Driving Down to Lisbon    ¶    Salsa    ¶    Somehow

The author of four volumes of poetry, Hsia Yü is a Taiwanese poet who lives in Paris, where she makes a living as a lyricist and translator. English translations of her poetry have appeared in anthologies such as Michele Yeh’s Modern Chinese Poetry, but these translations are the first to have been made with the endorsement and cooperation of the author.
Audio: You can listen to the poet reading the first poem, ‘Bringing Her a Basket of Fruit’ with a Paris-based electronic band. The track is in the RealAudio format, and unless you have the RealAudio plug-in installed in your Internet browser, you will need to go to the RealAudio site at and download and install it. The basic player is free. To hear the track, click on the button here: button

Bringing Her a Basket of Fruit

Today I go to this place and some guy there tells me not to come again/ I tell him I didn’t feel like going in any case/ Maybe others do but that’s another matter/ I go back to the flat I’m renting and steam a fish/ A friend comes over and we eat the fish together/ When we finish the fish he says he hasn’t been feeling too well lately/ Lost his job/ Missed his train to look for another one down south/ Those jobs just eat you alive he says/ You get a mortgage buy a house and a car and get yourself a woman/ You have some kids and if the kids grow up looking too much like you then you feel embarrassed/ And if they don’t grow up looking anything like you then you still feel embarrassed/ We talk awhile about the differences between being a landlord and a tenant/ Then we do it/ He asks how many lovers do you have and am I any different/ What a stupid question I say of course you’re different/ He keeps asking me how he is different/ I say you’re just different and if you really want to know maybe you’re really not so very different/ You can tell that just by looking at me he says/ You’re so weird always waiting for the worst to happen/ But when it does then I can settle down he says/ We look at the little mermaid on the VCR/ When the little mermaid loses her voice he cries/ We keep rewinding to the parts we like/ Steam another fish/ I lay out the Tarot cards to see if he’ll find a job and to see if we have any kind of future together/ You’re not going to find a job I say/ I’m not he says/ No point in even trying/ So what do I do/ There’s nothing you can do but anyhow now you can settle down now that you can expect the worst/ So do the cards say we’ll get married or something he asks/ Doesn’t look that way I say/ The cards aren’t accurate he says how do you know what the cards say is true/ You don’t understand what I’m saying so there’s no way I can make you understand/ So why do you believe in them/ I believe in them I say because the split second before I flip the cards over I know all the cause and effect relations since the universe began secretly work themselves out to like the final permutation/ Enough of this universe shit he says/ If it weren’t for this universe shit we wouldn’t be sitting here reading the cards/ I’m a little fed up here I say I’m thinking of moving/ Well why don’t you ask the cards and see if you’ll find a place/ I turn a card over/ The card says I will/ Well then ask if I can move in with you he says/ The card say no way/ We do it again/ But then I don’t know what to do/ And then I don’t know what to say either/ He leaves/ And I never see him again/ Perhaps there’ll be some other conclusion but I don’t know yet/ And then another friend calls who says I really don’t know if he loves me or not/ He loves you I say/ How do you know she says/ Because he doesn’t love me I say/ She hangs up/ I lay out the cards again/ I know that if I wait a little while she’ll call back to ask do you love him/ And sure enough she calls back/ I say I love him because I want to make her jealous/ I know she’ll call him right away to ask him if she loves you why don’t you love her/ She waits for him to say I love her/ She’s also waiting for the worst/ But later she settles down/ That’s because nobody loves her anyway/ She’s awfully weary of it all/ And so are we/ Later I move/ And I never do bring her a basket of fruit

Driving Down to Lisbon

If certain hotels happen to have these exhibitionists
Because they also have these hyper-reclusive types
Then the illusion generated by the entire hotel façade
Hinges on the intensity of the alcohol or the class
Of drug used and so the ensuing reality
Makes for these feelings of extreme sincerity or
Extreme insincerity or the embarrassment of
Being too familiar with something or not
Familiar enough and when I had finally persuaded her to
Accept the loneliness to accept this thing as something
Even worthy of her love I soon came to realize that
The loneliness she had come to love was mine and not
Her own and she had such a fierce desire
To join it that we drove down to
Lisbon to see a friend we all liked
And he had his loneliness too
But he called it
My mother deer my doe


And still I have this secret yearning to be that sand dune
Swept away one evening by a desert storm
Only to return the following morning in another form
And I agree we must take action
And, in action, find our motivation as the many
Compañera who fell in love with Ché Guevara were ever wont to say
I sleep in a T-shirt with his portrait emblazoned on it
And when I think of all those men one can never love again
I long to run my fingers through his hair
Light his cigar
Discover, once and for all, the herbal cure for his asthma
I know a little something of revolution
Knees that have known the long march with the ‘Outlaws of the Marsh’
I know a little something of the Don Quixote that he loved
The Kerouac he packed with him whenever he was on the road
The same things press in upon me
And so I take another form
I am Ché Guevara in the mirror this morning
Slipping my T-shirt halfway off
I find his face covering my own
I peer through an armhole
To take in this rare and precious moment
When, like something out of Borges,
I am him and he is unaware that I am him
Nor is anyone aware
Aye mi Cuba, oh my Latin America, I come to liberate you
And let me say to you, moreover, that of the Spanish I pored over
All those many years ago
The only line I can recall (this too from the book of Borges) is
‘Mi destino es la lengua castellana.’
‘I will go with you to the revolution,
But I would ask for your permission
To desert you should I feel the need arise’
No doubt the shallowness of my verse
Has reduced everyone to jeers
But then (if you have read your Borges)
You should know this poem was always already there
In every revolution
In my every desertion
And as for the part where poetry and revolution jostle up against each other
I’ll put on a salsa or two to help me muddle through


She took a fan and painted a bird on one side
And a cage on the other and then she spun
The handle in her hand till we could see the bird
In the cage and then she put the fan away and smiling
Asked us what we thought it was she’d said

I love you we said but that was wrong she said and then
We said I love you not but that was wrong
As well and then she took us home

Roaches flourish in these aging north-facing flats
She enlightened us as to the many places they infest
The belly of the fax machine
The interstices of the TV
The tape well of the answering machine
All those places warmed the year long by electricity
Did we have any conception? No, not really

All that we could think of was how nice it would be
If we too could worm our way into the hi-fi
And make our indolent bed there where the music pours out
On all those mornings which we dub the limitations of the age
When we are bathed in the radiance we say
Let all good things converge
Let our pain be our strength and at any moment let us
Be prepared to show our guests the bruises on our hips
And the scratches on our backs as we recite those
Words from somewhere ‘L’amour n’existe pas,
Mais la preuve d’amour existe’

Every time we went to her flat it had that
Look of having been ransacked by thieves
And indeed a thief did finally pay a call
And the conspiracy they hatched was this
He took only things she did not need so she never knew he took them
More importantly he helped her rummage up the things she’d lost
And so whenever we went to her flat after that
She had that look upon her face of ‘Well, why not?’

The translator: in addition to translating Ventriloquy: Selected Poems from the Chinese of Hsia Yü, from which these four translations are taken, Steve Bradbury is working on a new translation (the first in rhyme and fixed meter) of The Prison Diary of Ho Chi Minh (see boundary 2, volume 23:3).

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