All Colors Extinguish Without A Trace: Two Contemporary Uyghur Poets

Ghojimuhemmed Muhemmed and Osmanjan Muhemmed Pas’an
translated by Joshua L. Freeman

Guma, a county in the deep south of China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, has in recent decades produced a succession of remarkable poets. Perhaps the best known is Ghojimuhemmed Muhemmed, born 1971 in the village of Qoshtagh, and author of one of the most wide-ranging bodies of work in modern Uyghur poetry. Drawing on the classical Central Asian poetic tradition as well as the modernist currents that have reshaped Uyghur poetry in the last thirty years, Ghojimuhemmed Muhemmed’s voluminous oeuvre includes classically metered poems as well as free verse. Endlessly inventive in language and metaphor, his poems speak to the ironies and ambiguities of life, love, death, and history.

Osmanjan Muhemmed Pas’an, born a decade after Ghojimuhemmed Muhemmed, grew up in Guma’s Muji Village, and while still in high school began publishing in Uyghur literary journals. His controversial manifesto “Invitation to a Poetry of Nothingism” made a splash on the Uyghur literary scene in 2009, and established him as a leading voice in the ultra-modernist Nothingist poetic movement. A far more abstract poet than Ghojimuhemmed Muhemmed, Osmanjan Muhemmed Pas’an’s work is at turns cryptic, playful and philosophical, and probes relentlessly at the paradoxes of selfhood and language.


by Ghojimuhemmed Muhemmed

I paged through body bonfires
and saw the sky with an ice-bound sun.
I paged through desert dunes
and saw faith with withered roots.
I paged through rebellions of the soul
and saw Mashrab on a gallows hanged.

The city withdrew from the countryside,
threadbare stones lying cramped in the ravine,
rivers with parched banks running silently …
I took up a handful of dust
and my homeland bathed in my umbilical blood.
I took up a handful of sand
and just then horses neighed in my soul.
I opened my chest
and saw armor full of holes.
I took off the armor
and saw God sleeping on a porch.

I live in the city,
I bring home rivers and lakes,
I bottle and eat the trees.
I watched two people begging for change
on a ten-story building’s front steps
and saw a caravan of riders struggling to mount
their camels in the Uyghur desert.

Colorful Words
by Ghojimuhemmed Muhemmed

In black you’re fooling the white of death
You’re rinsing green the yellow waters of life
You’re dyeing your days a boring red
You’re speaking
of love’s filthy disease
and even
of how your heart died of this disease
of how days past
march down dark roads holding torches
of how in the eternal smiles of the dead
those smiles like God’s face
all colors extinguish without a trace

Only When We Start Moving Apart
by Osmanjan Muhemmed Pas’an

I trade places with you sometimes
and catch sight of you hurrying
by the wind where I walk
You get mixed up with me too sometimes
and feel me bounding like a deer through the daytime
in the night forests where you walk
Sometimes we run into each other
and speak for ages
but we have no mouths to move
no eyes to see
not even
a single part to our bodies
when we start moving apart
does the sharp smell of fear from our place make us yearn
and at the same time
a secret sound from the bell that arose there
takes our hard dreams
and eases them constantly

No One
by Osmanjan Muhemmed Pas’an

While my soul and my body
without a care in the world
arrange the books on my table
I take advantage
of the life they lead without seeing me
and turn it all upside down …

My soul and my body
will work for me till they die.

Published on March 30, 2017