even ants tremble at nightfall
even stones suffer insomnia
even moonlight’s so polluted men’s shadows thin to mist
even the mountaintop swells as if ready to blow
even the Tang Dynasty fell into decline
even in the trashcan people are living
even optimists are uncertain how to live
even men with fallen shoulders want to leave home
even the tiger was beaten down by Wu Song
even Wu Song can be scourged for his crimes and put in chains
even the law has holes
even wickedness finds a gallant excuse
even good looking women hug themselves
even the most beautiful prattle on
even Kwan-yin grows breasts
even Sai Jinhua got famous
even the doctor has gonorrhea, but keeps working
even the drunkard knows to go home, if only he could remember where
even birds of May learn to be silent
even the soulless can cry “Help!”
even children love the new and quietly loathe the old
even devils and ghosts are arrayed in gorgeous mantles
even the blind fortuneteller lowers his head before destiny
even the dead have worries
when night slips on its terrible silence
I walk through empty Wangfujing, muttering these words over and over
stars avoid my eyes
a huge black tree snatches at my waist
Wu Song: In the classic Chinese novel Outlaws of the Marsh, heroic figure who killed a man-eating tiger barehanded.
Kwan-yin: Buddhist divinity of compassion, originally male but later transformed into a woman.
Sai Jinhua: Late Qing dynasty courtesan who gained fame and influence around the time of the Boxer Rebellion.
Wangfujing: Broad Beijing street well-known for its shops and restaurants.
Translation of “”Fa Xian.” First published in Poems of Xi Chuan (Beijing: Renmin Wen Xue Chubanshe, rpt. 2002). Copyright Xi Chuan. By arrangement with the author. Translation copyright 2007 by Diana Shi and George O’Connell. By arrangement with the translators. All rights reserved.