the grotto by Zhu Zhu, translated by Dong Li

unable to trail the setting sun,
it is dark when we arrive.
the earth’s turning axis squeaks between the banks,
the river seems buried in a deep cave,
only audible over the hovering horizon.
the hotel atop the hill—
a lane that once wound through bai juyi’s old age,
is piled with leaves unable to return to branches;
in the hotel registration book,
we are condemned as aliens.

watching the old railings on the other bank atop the hill;
what is there to see? the long ink-splashed scroll shows no spot of white,
wind unrolls like an elegiac couplet, only the fog weaves thicker
and falls straight from the sky, and is cut into pillows, sheets and quilts,
filling up a room that is empty like our mind.

a blackbird startles on the eaves, dogs bark
from the village at the foot of the hill; though the windows are closed,
the roaring tides can still be heard
wave after a wave, like a raft pulled to shore
urging us to set off now—

tonight we cannot cross the river,
at bedtime we still turn on the tv,
like moths leaning in the cold trembling light of fluorescence,
we would prefer the grotto weather deep in the night on the far bank,
like history asleep in the tomb of nature.

the river marks the limit of the psyche,
we fear that the purgatorial blood and the decay might revive,
ourselves like pawns on the chessboard who can no longer return—
but in a dream raise a candelabra, walk up the stairs,
and scrutinize a faraway golden age.
Zhu Zhu was born in Yangzhou, P.R. China. He is a poet, critic and curator of art exhibitions and has published numerous volumes of poetry and prose, such as Drive to Another Planet, Salt on Wilted Grass, Blue Smoke, The Trunk, Stories, Vertigo, and Grey Carnival—Chinese Contemporary Art since 2000. Zhu’s honors include Liu Li’an and Anne Kao national poetry prizes, the French International Poetry Val-de-Marne Fellowship, Chinese Contemporary Art Award for Critics and Henry Luce Foundation Chinese Poetry Fellowship at the Vermont Studio Center.

Dong Li was born and raised in P.R. China. His honors include fellowships from Akademie Schloss Solitude 2015-2017, German Chancellery–Alexander von Humboldt Foundation 2015-2016, PEN/Heim Translation Fund, The Corporation of Yaddo and elsewhere. He has poems in Kenyon Review, Conjunctions, manuskripte (Austria, in German translation), and others, as well as translations in World Literature Today, PEN America, Guernica and others. His book-length translation of the Chinese poet Zhu Zhu, The Wild Great Wall, will be published by Phoneme Media in late 2017. His trilingual anthology of contemporary American, Chinese and German poetry in response to a poem by the late C.D. Wright will be forthcoming from the German publisher Matthes&Seitz Berlin in the fall of 2017.