Shang Qin (1930-) Translated by Michelle Yeh.
Pigeons Rooster Snow The Cat Who Walks Through the Wall Moonlight—In Mourning of Someone Giraffe Fire Extinguisher Electric Lock
All of a sudden, I close my right fist tightly and pound it on my left palm. “Pow!” How empty the wilderness is! Yet in the morbid sky a flock of pigeons flies by: are they in couples or singles? With my left hand I hold my loosening right fist, whose fingers slowly stretch yet, unable to go all the way, can only turn around and around in my palm. Ah, you innocent hands that have worked but are to keep on working, have killed but are to be killed in the end, how you resemble a pair of wounded birds. Yet in the dizzy sky a flock of pigeons flies by: are they in couples or singles? Now I use my left hand to caress my trembling right hand gently, but the left hand trembles too, making it look even more like a woman pitying her wounded partner, a grief-stricken bird. So I use my right hand to caress my left hand gently . . . perhaps those flying in the sky are hawks. In the anaemic sky, not a single bird. Innocent hands tremble from leaning on each other, hands that have worked but are to keep on working, have killed but are to be killed in the end, let me raise you up high, how I wish to release you—like releasing a pair of healed birds—from my arms!
Sunday, I sit on an iron bench with a missing leg in a quiet corner of the park to enjoy the lunch I bought at a fast-food place. As I chew, all of a sudden it occurs to me that I have not heard a rooster crow in a few decades. With the bones I try to put together a bird that can summon the sun. I can’t find the vocal cords, because they no longer need to crow. Their work is incessant eating and they produce themselves. Under the artificial sunlight there is neither dream nor dawn
I fold a letter from the back, it’s whiter on this side, a good thing that man doesn’t like to write on both sides. I fold and fold it again, then fold it diagonally into a cone, then cut it with a small pair of scissors, cut it and poke it, then I’ve always thought snow is made this way: I open the cut-out letter, it’s a good thing that man’s handwriting is so light that it doesn’t show through, white, spread out, a six-petalled snowflake lies on a yellow palm of hand. Yet in the sky three thousand kilometres above or even higher, a group of angels are at their wits’ end when they are faced with the littering bodies on a big square below, and as the temperature sud- denly drops below zero, their arguments and sighs gradually crys- tallize and fall one by one.
The Cat Who Walks Through the Wall
Ever since she left, this cat has been coming in and out of my place as she pleases; doors, windows, even walls can’t stop her. When she was with me, our life made the sparrows outside the iron gate and windows envious. She took care of me in every way, in- cluding bringing me with her hands the crescent moon on nights when there was a power outage, and emitting cool air by standing next to me on humid summer nights. I made the mistake of discussing happiness with her. That day, contrary to my usual reticence, I said: “Happiness is the half that people don’t have.” The next morning, she left without saying good- bye. She’s not the kind of woman who would write a note with lipstick on the vanity mirror. She didn’t use a pen either. All she did was inscribe these words on the wallpaper with her long sharp finger- nails: “From now on, I will be your happiness, and you mine.” Since this cat started coming in and out of my place as she pleases, I have never really seen her, for she always comes at midnight, leaves at daybreak.
Moonlight—In Mourning of Someone
An eyewitness recounts: “At the beginning I was simply stunned by what he was doing, when I saw him walking above the tips of silver- grass swaying in the breeze, wondering if he wasn’t indeed Bodhi- dharma! He raised his cane high, shoved both of his arms outward and hard, as if he were roaring; maybe he thought he was Moses parting the Red Sea. Though the stream was shallow, there were caverns left by illegal excavations. But I didn’t hear any sound of water; it was early morning on the sixteenth day of the month, the moon was especially full, the sky was very blue, so there was no reason why he could not reach the other shore.” Neither his clothes nor even his shoes were wet. According to the autopsy report, he was drowned by moonlight.
After the young prison guard noticed that at the monthly physical check-up all the height increases of the prisoners took place in the neck, he reported to the warden: “Sir, the windows are too high!” But the reply he received was: “No, they look up at Time.” The kindhearted young guard didn’t know what Time looks like, nor its origin and whereabouts, so night after night he patrolled the zoo hesitantly and waited outside the giraffe pen.
At noon when anger arose, I glared at the fire extinguisher on the wall. A child came up to me and said: “Look! There are two fire extinguishers in your eyes.” Because of his innocent confession, I pinched his cheeks and smiled, and could not help crying. I saw two mes crying separately in his eyes. He did not tell me how many hims he saw in the mirrors of my tears.
Tonight the streetlights where I live went out at midnight as usual. While I looked for my key the kindhearted taxi driver aimed his headlights at me as he backed up. The ruthless glare projected the inky silhouette of a middle-aged man onto the iron gate. It was only after I had found the right key on the chain and inserted it straight into my heart that the good fellow drove off. Then I turned the key in my heart with a click, pulled out the delicate piece of metal, pushed the gate open, and strode in. Soon I got used to the darkness inside.
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