A new poem by Huang Fan, translated by Josh Stenberg
The wearing of face-masks – a global norm this spring, not only in China – would a year ago have been a dip into surrealist imagery for Huang Fan, a Nanjing poet and fiction writer born in 1963. In this poem, with readers conscious that masking is a literal reality, their new ubiquity becomes a chain of associations: a lover’s silencing, intimate, stifling hand; the long-awaited blossoming of spring transformed to invisible terror; the grim figuration of disease on an X-ray; the pause-hitting social distancing of society. Here as elsewhere in his work, Huang is concerned with the alternation between speech and silence, the difficulty of communication, the betrayal of dreams, and the body in distress. He combines this with an affectionate but ironic use of the tropes of Chinese classical poetry – springtime blossoms and white moons. Then he ends with a reflection of a major emotional response to pandemic from the healthy majority: grievance, muffled by guilt. – Josh Stenberg
A note from spring 2020
It’s like a white hand, suddenly over my face
Two months already, I’m still not used to it
Warm over my sighing embrace
So even my mother tongue gets carefully filtered?
It’s the jail gate of the tongue, imprisoning how much hot air
It keeps even love at a distance
It says our mouths are like wounds it needs to tightly bandage
It’s like a white moon, makes me bury my desires in a dream.
It’s this spring’s most abundant white blossom
Trying to match tragedy’s hue
It’s also winter in a patient’s lungs
Freezing to permafrost on everyone’s faces
And when I complain while wearing you, my mouth fills with shame. ∎
Huang Fan’s most recent poetry collection is Insomniac Moon (Jiangsu Literature and Art Publishing House, 2018).
Header: Miroslava Chrienova/Pixabay (free use)