Over Autumn Rooftops
Hai Zi (Zha Haisheng)
Dan Murphy, Translator

(Host Publications)
Murphy has chosen almost 100 poems to translate and include here. The original Chinese appears face-en-face. Since my Cantonese is a little rusty, I will not be judging the originals. But what appears here is so ravishing that if Murphy made it all up, he is obviously a genius.

    Bodhisattva is an Eastern woman
    she is very willing
    to help
    she helps you only once per life

    and this is enough
    passing through her
    and passing through myself
    two hands happen upon you, your


    two trembling little red sails
    between my lips
    Bodhisattva knows
    Bodhisattva lives in a bamboo forest
    she knows everything
    knows tonight
    knows all love
    knows seawater is me
    washing your eyebrows

When a poet calls up a strange juxtaposition like this ("knows all love / knows seawater is me / washing your eyebrows") we, you, me --- anyone with soul --- knows that it is not a game: it's the real thing. As Murphy points out in his introduction, Hai Zi "is not simply a cultural poet or a nature poet."

    Although his work is distinctly Chinese, his poetry does not belong exclusively to any particular time or place --- it transcends all of this.

Hai Zi clinched his name as a poet mauve by writing endless amazing verse when he was still quite young and, just before fame could hit, killing himself near his home in Shanhaiguan, China. He was twenty-five-years-old.

This would automatically put him right up there with Keats, Byron, Wilfred Owen and perhaps Dylan Thomas in the poetic martyr sweepstakes. The picture of his passing is not without a certain drama: the train screaming down the tracks, the noise and the steam and thrumming of the pistons, the shriek of brakes on metal, and this not unhandsome, brilliant young man throwing himself on the tracks. Obviously one with too little regard for himself.

Was he zonked? Was he suffering from a broken heart? Was he anguished by the politics of China? Was he, like Keats, embittered by a bad review of his writings? According to Murphy, in his last years, Hai Zi suffered from hallucinations. It's believable: the poetry is hallucinatory, reminding one of Baudelaire's Le Spleen de Paris, the Tamarit Poems of García-Lorca, Dame Edith Sitwell's startling imagery ("the allegro Negro cocktail shaker") ... or, perhaps, Paul Celan:

    Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
    we drink you at noon in the morning we drink you at sundown
    we drink and we drink you
    a man lives in the house your golden hair Margarete
    your ashen hair Shulamith he plays with the serpents

The most obvious clue about Hai Zi's final decision --- every day we must choose to live; we can choose but once to part --- turns up in his poem "On Death," dedicated to Van Gogh. It contains all the elements of a suicide note: the dark sleep; the holy hands of doves (clumsy in the field); the flowers blooming over him; his body being taken by "the empress of death." Only a schizophrenic could join what most would think as dissonant (flowers, cows, sleep), tie them to "I think I am beautiful" and ultimately spirit us up and away with,

    on a rainy night a cow thief
    climbs in my window
    and on my dreaming body
    picks sunflowers

    I remain deeply asleep
    and on my dreaming body
    colorful sunflowers bloom
    those picking hands
    like beautiful and clumsy doves
    in a field of sunflowers

    on a rainy night a cow thief
    steals me
    from my human body
    I am still deeply sleeping
    I am taken beyond my body
    beyond the sunflowers. I am the world's
    first cow (the empress of death)
    I feel that I am beautiful
    I am still deeply sleeping

--- Lolita Lark
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