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The Sun Singers

by Bei Ling

translated from the Chinese by Tony Barnstone, Willis Barnstone, and Xi Chuan


Early autumn dusk
People climb stairs stained by the bloody broken
Sun
Man woman
Men and women
Loafing or in a rush
On the street
Ads and sailor shirts
The player talks through his sobbing guitar
Their songs fill the whole summer
They’ve rasped their throats hoarse
Singing till deep autumn singing till broad leaves
Fall
They are waiting
Waiting in solitude waiting stubbornly
Crowds quiver crowds stop in their tracks

This season is a borderline
As are rivers and marshes
Their songs are tantalizing
Their songs grieve, are solemn
Those singers those sun singers
Stubborn confirmation forever confirms
Behind the shrieking wind and bitter rain of the 20th
Century

There must be a heavy snow
Crowds open windows
Crowds throng outside
Crowds will join in chorus
Play guitar and sing out
All the fears of the 20th century
Will resonate in countless songs

This is proclamation
Among all other voices
This is the singer’s voice
Coming from his chest
A voice from the canyons of his throat
A voice of gentleness
Listen: the place exposing sunlight and air
Also exposes me
Exposes the earthquaking growth

Deep autumn dusk
The singers’ shadow floats across the land
Their hearts merge with the shadow of sunlight
With sun they will
Expose all the secrets of the 20th century

 

A graduate of Beijing College of Finance and Trade, Bei Ling is a poet and essayist and the founder and editor of the exile literary journal Tendency. He was awarded the PEN-U.S. West Freedom of Writing Award in 2000, the same year he was arrested in China for publishing and printing a literary journal and was expelled to the United States. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The New Republic, Chicago Review, The Los Angeles Times Book Review, Southern Indiana Review, and Manoa. (2001)

Tony Barnstone is an assistant professor of creative writing and English at Whittier College and has published his poetry, fiction, essays, and translations in dozens of major American journals. His books include Impure and Latin America (Prentice Hall, 1999).

Willis Barnstone is a poet and distinguished professor of comparative literature at Indiana University. A former Guggenheim Fellow, Fulbright Professor, and Pulitzer Prize finalist in poetry, he is the author of The Poetics of Translation: History, Theory, Practice (Yale University Press, 1993) and Algebra of Night: New & Selected Poems, 1948-1998 (Sheep Meadow Press, 1999). His literary translation of the New Testament is forthcoming from Penguin Putnam.

Xi Chuan is a Chinese poet who since 1985 has published poetry, essays, and translations and now works as an editor at the New China News Agency.

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