Shoes for Athens
You have stayed here long enough
and now, finally, it’s time to go to Athens.
So many years you have walked barefoot across the fields
looking for a pair of shoes left behind in a dream—shoes for Athens
But you took them off on a street corner in New York
and sold cast off handicrafts from the locals back home,
and the plaster footprints of animals
and wooden legs hacked off Spring trees—
things that civilization finds quaint.
But the shoes of Odysseus
may not fit your American dream;
they may not be right for Athens.
won’t help you understand Homer.
They won’t help you cross the ruined forests
and anyway who wants to buy shoes from the dead
even if it’s with their own money?
How far is a pair of smelly old shoes willing to walk?
Will they ever grow feet that fit?
Close your shoe store. Try to imagine
grotesque monsters wear respectable shoes
to respectable middle class dinner parties .
Try to imagine
A single pair of ballet slippers tiptoeing through the sleepless night
Try to imagine a man who is still running after losing both legs.
Athens is a thousands of miles away….
The lonely long distance runner—prosthetic legs tapping
on the ground for years
While his shoes fly in the abyss…
Then you may decide you don’t want those shoes
Between Chinese and English
I dwell in a house of Chinese
transfixed by characters,
independent but coherent, swinging unbridled
with the singular rhythm of a machine gun.
With each burst they became simpler—
an arm or a leg fell off, an eye was shot out,
but they kept on, kept going, kept seeing.
This mystery fosters hunger
but grows days that are rich with food
that I share and chose with whom I share—those
of my own race, with a native accent, an speech unified
like crystal, mixing modern and ancient characters.
My lips are a circle of ruins,
my teeth are trapped in an open field;
they fall into a hollow, not touching the bones.
Such a landscape, such meat, Chinese feeds the world.
After I devoured my days, I gnawed on my ancestors
until one evening, turning a corner
I saw a group of Chinese kids surrounding an American.
I guess they wanted to immigrate to the English language,
but English has no place in China, no home.
It’s only a lesson in school, a way of talking, something on TV,
a department in a college, tests, academic papers—
the Chinese and pencils go together, writing lightly
they take up the eraser’s whole life.
After so much ink, glasses, printers and lead,
English rolls up China’s beautiful gowns of antiquity
And now we are used to abbreviations and “diplomatic” language,
Western food, knives and forks, even western medicines like aspirin.
These changes never mean anything to our noses or skin.
Like a toothbrush every morning,
English walks all over the teeth to make Chinese people white.
In ancient times, people died from eating books,
So I brush my teeth everyday, letting the water relate to what is clean
and what is poetry.
Then I have a sense of taste—a flavor that speaks
Brushing is about my hand, too: it reaches into the English language
to separate the middle finger from the index to make the sign of victory—
A kind of Nazi-like euphoria they feel.
A cigarette falls to the ground and what is left is snuffed out
History is a war with a stutter—the Third Reich, Hitler…
Maybe the crazy man shot and killed Shakespeare and Keats.
I’m sure the Oxford English Dictionary belongs to the aristocracy,
And there’s also a kind of English that is armed to the teeth—
The English of Churchill and Roosevelt
whose metaphors destroyed all sense of beauty,
exploding in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
I saw piles of Chinese characters turned into corpses
because of the Japanese language.
Yes, I read about this time in history, feeling very suspicious.
I’m not sure which is more ridiculous, me or history.
What has really happened between Chinese and English for more than a hundred years?
Why have so many immigrated to America,
working so hard to become yellow and white, still regarding their language
As a divorced ex-wife or a home reflected by a broken mirror?
What has really happened?
I dwell in Chinese, and I’m lonely…
talking to people who live in books.
I dwell in Chinese and think about America
and wonder why my countrymen want to go there…
Why change the very image of a man into a sound?
In Memory of Ezra Pound
I die but you still live.
You know nothing about me
just as you know nothing about the world.
My face will be turned into a death masque, immortal,
to make you similar to each other:
neither the self or others.
Ever apple tree I bless grows into an autumn
and grows hungry.
Every bird you see is my soul.
My shadow is more certain than light. (bright)
Books are my real burial ground—
there, your name are superfluous,
All eyes are open just to glance:
without my songs, you have no mouth.
What you will sing and continue to sing
is boundless loneliness, not songs.
Who Goes and Who Stays
At dusk, the little boy hides in a plant
and listens in secret to the insides of insects…
what he hears
is the world without them—like the insides
The sunset rolled over like the wheel of a truck
Over his feet.
His father is a truck driver
who dumped the stuff in his truck in an open field.
Then his father climbed down and was seized
by the silent beauty of the sunset. He turned off
his phone, which was ringing, and said to the boy:
“Everything rolling across the sky has lips
but it only speaks to itself. Listen to these words.”
The boy learns to eavesdrop on other people’s ears.
Actually, he didn’t learn to listen at all,
but he did hear a different way to listen,
finding in his own self a deafness of sorts.
He became an imaginary deaf boy.
Is there, perhaps, another miraculous world of noise
underneath the setting sun of mere mortals?
Is there anyone listening? Is there yet another sun going down?
Under the staggering sky the world goes mute
and no one answers their phone.
Machines and insects can’t hear even a heart beat.
Even the plant in which he has hidden
is uprooted, and the boy’s deafness becomes the setting,
The order of things, indeed even homesickness.
The truck wasn’t working
so his father was busy fixing it
while his mother slept for a while, hugging the setting sun,
just for a little while.
We do not know the coming of night.
We do not know the coming of old age.
(December 4th, 1997 in Stuttgart)
About the Poet
Chinese poet Ouyang Jianghe, known as one of the “Five Masters from Sichuan,” is a poet and prominent critic of music, art, and literature, and president of the literary magazine Jintian. His first poetry collection in English, Doubled Shadows (2012), was published by Zephyr Press.
About the Translator
Marlon L. Fick is the author of four books, El nino de Safo (2000); Histerias Minimas (2001), Selected Poems (2001), published by Fuentes Mortera of Mexico City, and The River Is Wide: 20 Mexican Poets, published by UNM Press (2005).
In 2000, he received the Cona Culta Award for the Arts (Mexico’s National Endowment) for his first book, Sappho’s Child, translated into Spanish. Later, he received support and recognition from The Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Mexico for contributions to Latin Literature (2001). In 2005 he received the National Endowment for the Arts for the manuscript, The Tenderness and the Wood.
In 2007, an addition of his poems was published in Russian translation by Tatiana Puchnacheva. His poems have appeared in numerous journals, including The New England Review, The Boston Review, The Boston Phoenix, Kansas Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, Antioch Review, Mudfish, Marlboro Review, and several others. Fick was born in Olathe, Kansas. He received his BA in Philosophy from KU, his Master’s in Poetics from NYU, and his PhD in English from KU.
Fick is a former professor for Kansas State University and Education Adviser to the country of Pakistan. Fick now resides in Overland Park and teaches at Johnson County Community College.
Visit www.marlonfick.com for more information.