31 JANUARY 2009


Bridge Under Construction
Riverside Park   
He Ping/Peaceriver
Bridge Under Construction

About Zhang Er



Bridge Under Construction


When two points join, the suspense will be over.
Now colorful flags blow! Bridge probes the bottomless
heart of the river. Will it make it to the other side?
Maybe it just spreads its wide shoulders,
lets the boats glide under, no visible
wake. Birds above,
naturally. Immovable
mountain embraces
huts, houses, highrises.

Is this it, love?
calm surface
yellow water
yellow soil:

the seventh layer five thousand years
the tenth layer eight thousand years

sediment churns up
beauty, small clay pot, a fish tail.
I throw myself into your arms
lean against your chest of steel, and cry—
your body wakes
flowing water tenderness

bottomless depth ninety-ninth layer.

Riverside Park

Riverside boulder
lies flat, rolling
history romanced: children play
King of the Hill. Queen. And they dance, too.
Little girl waves arms, kicks
legs shyly, quietly glances, sees
you. Why do you walk by
unmoved, not noticing her deliberate attention,
her undeveloped breasts? You
pass by you pass by endlessly
complicated, tell your own story,
difficult to explain, yet it also all started
from a pair of undeveloped breasts.

A couple holding hands strolls into the lighted circle,
walking stick and dyed black grandma hair. Watch
your father roll time back to his youth,
sweat rivers his forehead, chasing
his little girl as she dashes headlong over
the demarcation of permission, well lit
by street lamp. Look at me, outside the light,
still one person, merging with shadow.
Envy, maybe
caused by the humidity just
before the rain storm.

River wind sits
holding its own hand.
A sigh of comfort, observing the scene
night after night singing
the world into harmony.


The cook makes the sauce— "Shua"!
hot pot encounters cold tomato
homeland. A tiny spot of
memory bitter like tea leaves clings
to the worn spoon.
Scarlet ribbon wrappings layer over layer,
way way beyond exotic.
They are handing out menus again.
In and out, practice the union
of east and west. You
stand outside the door
waiting for that man
to walk out of your heart.

Let him wait, pitilessly let him wait
till the oil heats up, thick smoke rises,
serve bowl after bowl:
Yang Chow
even Singapore fried rice…
she diligently translates
fried eggs, already overcooked
but still translating.
Want some shredded meat huh?
Hot sauce huh?
Sit still like a good student.
Answer, I want it soft and slow.
How much time do I have?
When it strikes 12 midnight
you will change back to the cook’s wife
cleaning the table, sweeping the floor.

Drink it first, peel
down taste layer after layer:
dark vegetation, naked soil
roots buried deep, water source.
An effortless touch, such tacit thread.
You are wet
You are wet too
all over
long bench in the garden, stone bridge
he stands, wheezing, checking the scenery
motionless in the rain
black and white
She tentatively presses down the save key,
hits return. Now finally
spoon out the flamboyant oil,
tender yellow fried egg emerges
from the soup bowl with matching plate.
Coriander leaves?

Bare feet, little girl style
pajama scallion green
comes downstairs
embraced by such a love
kept in the mouth
wet, dripping
how did you come here?
how did you find such
a creative way
to keep warm?
Secret channel:
a dare to go down
and more, a patience to wait
I want to swallow you.
Noodles dripping wet.


He Ping / PeaceRiver

It shouldn’t be written this way, peace. Then how about ChurnRiver?   SeaChurn?
No, dear, it doesn’t sound right, not as pleasing as He Ping, nor so peaceful.

Because you, because reasons unexplainable: build dam, construct bridge,
the resulting piles of leftover steel, burnt out machinery, mounds of dirt and trash, pile up new orders quick quick, just as solid. Useful.

Earrings without hooks, necklace colors faded, the unevenness due to lost stitches—
sentences shrink, become incoherent, their sponginess lost.

Better drop everything: traditional underpants, personal involvement,
a drowning hen with flapping wings, sadness as it heaves.

What do you think? That the new life is still the old life?
the life we always wanted, but kept in balance?

Think fixed routine and balanced fluidity make for transcendence?
Home. A train tries to escape from an old gramophone record.

Difficult to touch a curving chest, therefore paint a landscape
breathing. You point to the table cloth, is that your sampan?

Sampan, carrying a blackened mat, tiny shed and a few shapeless whatchamacallits.
Where are we sitting? Let's discuss the best angle from which to observe, what, thin metal pails?

Watch hills from river, watch river from boat. Hills move.
River flows. Yet you say your boat doesn’t change: blackened shed, metal pail.

Turning your eyes, the scenery has already become an old photo facing you
drifting down the river of time.  Suddenly the photo starts to move! The figure stretches! Aieeee!

Take off your blue shirt and let me see your sixteen year-old skin.
Seduce. (You weren’t even born then!  But I can still imagine, can’t I?)

Change the angle, is that more pleasurable? Don’t lie down on my stomach.
The banner has been taken down, get rid of the flag pole too. Find a view.

Do you believe in God? The New Testament plus Moses’ Ten Commandments equals
Tropic of Cancer and The Dream of the Red Chamber— It's all Belief….

….the same romance. You've got to be in the right mood to buy a big house, or chat
quantum mechanics genetic engineering middle-east gunfire Koran and Diamond Sutra…

come on, it will take all the ropes in the world to pull me out of this river—
to set up camp, push toes into the grave, fall fall in love, lose lose love, put it all right here in writing

and erasing. The scenery can’t steady the reality, yet won’t blow away
the peace either. He Ping.
Setting sun licks wet
newly written short sentences
resplendent in jade and gold.



Four Tones

These four tones are just too hard, talking like singing
like rain pitter patter splitter  splatter on a book!
Like little frog saying gua gua gua. Grinning now, a tiny
toothy smile. A little sun
yoyos through the elm branches like wings,
that flickering. "Woof, Woof" why cover
her gorgeous golden curls with a shag hat,
"Gou gou (tone 3)." Right! Dog goes like that, deflected
tone sounds like curls popping out with an added
stress on the bottom palate.
"Ma-ma (tone 1) is what letter?"

what     letter?

"Little Treasure": bao-bao (tone 3),  say b-ao, bao, say b-ao, bao
and "Daddy" like this: ba-ba (tone 4), say b-a, ba, say b-a, ba
is B, second letter of alphabet

Now, just listen, ma-ma is a little more complicated.
Say  m-a, ma, say m-a, ma. Yes, in the middle
towards the back position: men (tone 2): two doors walked in and out,
mi (tone 3): rice, hidden away, can't be finished,
jie-mu (tone 4): the performance endless….

Ming (tone2) is fame, and you cannot have that
because ming (tone 4), fate which can't be rid of.
bao-bao , Little Treasure, come now,  ma (tone3), gua-da, gua-da: Ride the horsey!
Now look down, on the ground, ma-yi (tone 3), ants busy about.
Mom beautiful, mei (tone 3); mom secretive, mi-mi (tone 4); mom silent, mo-mo (tone 4)
mu- niu (tone3), cow moo-moo; mom is also a question mark, ma (tone 1)…

The first letter is A
is love, ai (tone 4)
also peace and contentment, an (tone 1)
the most easy and most difficult

"Where did the cat, mao-mao (tone1), go?"

The cat was getting old
and sick

It is sleeping and
not waking up,
not returning home
"Where did mao-mao go?"

no more

"Where did mao-mao go?"

Yes,  ma-ma and mao-mao
start with the same letter

"Where did mao-mao go?"




born in Beijing , is the author of three collections of poetry in Chinese, most recently Because of Mountain (Shan Yuan). She has six chapbooks in English translation, among them, Carved Water and Sight Progress. Her selected poems in two bilingual collections, So Translating Rivers and Cities (2007) and Verses on Bird (2004) are from Zephyr Press. She co-edited the bilingual volume Another Kind of Nation: an Anthology of Contemporary Chinese Poetry which was published by Talisman House Publishers recently (2007). She currently teaches at The Evergreen State College in Washington.