Desire of the Rose, Desire of Swords:
Poetry by Duo Duo

by Duo Duo
translated by Lucas Klein

Duo Duo was born in Beijing in 1951 as Li Shizheng 栗世征 (he gave himself his pen name in honor of his daughter, called Duoduo [多多], who died in infancy in 1982) and grew up in the capital. Only two years younger than the newly founded People’s Republic of China, his life has followed the PRC’s general historical outlines: he came of age during the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), reached maturity as a poet during the “reform and opening” years of the eighties, lived abroad during the period of China’s economic explosion in the nineties, and returned to China in 2004. He now lives in a small apartment in Beijing without a mailbox (if you want to send him something, he must be there himself to receive it). Duo Duo is a vegetarian whose poetry reveals an affinity with the mixture of Indian Buddhism and Chinese Daoism known as Zen, with its mysteries and suspicion of language—but his writing has never been reducible to a mirror of, or straightforward response to, the conditions of its creation, nor to an expression of any prefabricated philosophy.

Duo Duo’s work was widely translated into English in the nineties, but his last volume in this language was published in 2002, which means that nearly none of his work since his return to China has been made available to readers of poetry in English (he told me once, with only a hint of frustration, that Chinese readers tend to favor his earlier works). I find that his poetry has only gotten stronger over time, as evident in “That Time,” the first and longest entry of his ten-section sequence, The Desire of the Rose Now the Same as the Desire of Swords. The sequence as a whole is about the vicissitudes of memory: its pains but also its joys. The images that end “That Time,” horses and gravestones, are familiar throughout Duo Duo’s oeuvre, but here they are defamiliarized. The whole sequence ends with “remembrance” being the pursuit of “what is ahead,” while “the moment of happiness is the moment of memory.”

As translator, my goal is to let Duo Duo’s style come through; I have aimed simply to put in English what he has put in Chinese, the way he has put it. There is enough mystery in his images and how they interact and interlock that I see no need to mystify the Chinese language he writes in. As his poems argue, the mystery is in all language, any language, and as J.H. Prynne has written, “Don’t try to solve the problem: translate it!” I have not tried, then, to unpack or interpret his deeper meanings. That is the task of the reader, not the translator.

As a reader, I am unsure if the desire of the rose and swords in the title means desire for a rose and swords, desire felt by a rose and by swords, or else desire being compared to roses and swords. Ultimately, I believe the poem succeeds in part through the active jostling between these possibilities. In one section there is “a sword suspended,” and in another, “the rose only knows growing thorns”; here in “That Time,” time itself is called a “long, long rose.” As you read this poem, I hope you feel the jostle; I hope you are able to feel how the desire of swords can become the desire of the rose.

-Lucas Klein


See Original Language See Translation

That Time

why does the camel need twin humps to make it through the desert?

I look at you, you only look at yourself
I look there, I only see you

I look at things I cannot see
I see time—that long, long rose

at that time the lion could still think, no flames of fury in the beauty’s eyes
at that time we could still walk into things we could not understand

it’s the heart that creates the invisible, between riddle
and its four walls, letting the parable of life pass through the ring

the way my sunlight might pierce your eyes
to see some even farther place

women’s bodies used to be a meadow, still releasing all that dreams received
the river’s flow is slowed by the breath of their bathing

at that time you appeared, planting your feet, to stop my pacing
love should have no name, to darken the hill that grows only roses

only two trees are left there, one the shadow of the other

trees have no heart, and stand straight because no one will embrace them
but taller still when leaned on by sterilized women

a woman’s statue in a corner of the park, everyone walking by
tosses a coin into her mouth
at that time I heard a kind of sound, softer than a snake sigh

beauty kneeling there, as if for some first offense
as stable as creation

that’s how the snake listened to my tale
vines sprouting wings entwining around the clock, too little for love to use

in silence is a never-ignited lamp, light it
to illuminate each day that never reached us

not knowing what emotions want, the bird hides its head in implication
feed it with what wisdom is in the cage

you hide behind your smile, the sun telling lies inside your eye

I steal your words while you toss the salad
at what degree is guessing stealing?

your heart is hiding in back of whatever I’m looking for
in back is its entire location

the caged animal pricks up its ears, meatballs in the clouds, clouds full of fervor

on its own in the darkness, as are you, the sun secretly shines
we’ll just have to stay silent with eyes open

your eyes are two windows open at sea bottom
the stars above our heads just a bunch of tvs

oyster shells dump onto the bed where we turn and overturn
I enter the other side of night

the fifth season is already singing falsetto

an apple smiles on the window sill, the rose only knows growing thorns
all words brighten

tomorrow in the clock already, a sixth toe starts to grow on your foot

two great birds, featherless, bodies all muscle
in the dark we identify each other

honeysuckle hanging midair like a right hook
powerless to restrain its conclusion

the desire of the rose now the same as the desire of swords

a pair of shoes maintains the shape of your toes
the dancer walks by, meaning there’ll be as many times turning back
as there are times setting out

I get near you, wait for you, my flowers
blooming on another’s collar, I on your dust

I am your landscape painting flittering back and forth
I am your lover

I’m not me, but Jesus is about to leap from my heart
I am your downfall

count my glass tears, you already grasp the story of the future

from behind you’re more complex than you are, I’m still observing
the field between us

lonesomeness is a lighthouse, parallel with love
sneering springs from self-mockery, via justification

the rose is grey, its shadow rose-colored

my face is half of my mask

no one is themselves, I see feather-shaped shadows fighting with the wind

witnesses help us forget

I insist on a state of being alive, my solitude brokers no disturbance

I’m a writer who rolls through seven bedsheets a year
I rely on nervousness more than I rely on your bed

I recollect in song, and rock the arrowheads on my back

whoever empathizes with pain, go count wool

and take away my drum, burying it is worth more than beating it

in back of me, these words use my voice
that’s how strong the coffin is

loneliness is for the young
a woman whose eyelids are covered with dead moths takes aim at my constellation

fishers stare with fish eyes, observing their own hearts

trees see further, with no more obstructions, having given them all up
the children slapping trees are all angels, each shorter than the last

practice this imperfection, the earth has no other sight
the world has an aching mother

father blocked by mother, the cello has a pear-shaped posterior

I’m afraid of thunder, and so’s mom, I love what I fear

a great bird is staring at me, with a maternal expression
I cover my face, happily growing teeth

I’m wearing clothes a goldfish has worn, endlessly taking candy out of its pockets

the tree wears a boy’s shorts wiping the sky
the letters sent to mother’s grave have arrived

I dream, dreaming I’m no longer a horse

inaction is too expensive, the thunder of old age sent it
lightning loves that it never possessed it

the soul was unprepared, precious objects are in hiding
more faithful than mother’s grave

gravestones kiss gravestones, between them the effort to open up flesh is renewed

a horse comes galloping over, we know each other, so the horse gallops away
another horse comes galloping, so we gallop away

那时

为什么骆驼需要双峰才能穿越沙漠?

我望着你,你只望着自己
我望着那里,我只望到你

我在看我看不到的事物
我看到了时间——那朵漫长的玫瑰

那时狮子还会思考,美人眼中还没有怒火
那时我们还能走进不可理解的事物

是心灵创造不可见的,在谜
和它强大的四壁之间,容生活的寓言穿过指环

如我的日光能够穿透你的眼睛
就会看到更远的地方

她们的身体曾是原野,还在释放梦所接纳过的
她们洗浴的气息已放慢了河流的流动

那时你出现,你驻足,以停止我的徘徊
爱应当没有名字,已让只栽玫瑰的坡暗了下来

那里只剩两棵树,一棵是另一棵的影子

树没有心,因无人搂抱而笔直向上
因绝育女人的依靠而更为挺拔

女雕像搁在公园一角,谁经过
都往她的嘴里撒一把硬币
那时我听见某种声响,比蛇的叹息还要轻

美就跪在那里,如初犯的罪
像创造一样稳定

蛇如此倾听我的讲述
插翅的藤与钟缠在一起,不够爱之所用

沉默中有一盏未燃的灯,要点燃它
以照亮从未抵达我们的每一日

不知感情要什么,鸟儿的头藏在暗示里
用笼子里的智慧喂它

你躲在你的笑容后面,太阳在你眼中说谎

我偷你在搅拌色拉时的话语
在多大程度上,猜就是偷?

你的心就藏在我要找的事物后面
后面就是它所有的地点

笼物竖起耳朵,肉丸子在云中,云朵充满激情

独自在黑暗里,你也是,太阳暗自发光
我们就是要睁着眼沉默

你的眼睛是两扇张开在海底的窗户
我们头顶的星星还是一些电视

蚝壳滚滚卸到我们一起翻身的床上
我进入夜的另一面

第五个季节已在用假声歌唱

一个苹果在窗台上微笑,玫瑰只知长刺
所有的词都亮了

明天已在钟表内,你的第六根脚趾开始生长

两只大鸟,没有羽毛,全身都是肌肉
黑暗中,我们彼此识别

金银花像一记勾拳停在半空
已无力约束这结束

玫瑰的欲望已经与剑的欲望一致

一双鞋保持着你脚趾的形状
舞蹈着走过去,意味着有多少次出发
就有多少次折回

我挨着你,等你,我的花
在别人衣领开放,我是你的尘土上

我是你的过往掠过的一幅风景画
我是你的情人

我不是我,而基督快要从心里跳出来了
我是你的沉沦

数我的玻璃眼泪吧,你已抓住未来的故事

你的背影比你复杂,我还在观察
我们之间的那块田野

孤独是灯塔,与爱平行
嘲讽从自嘲中涌出,为解嘲

玫瑰是灰色的,它的影子是玫瑰色的

我的脸是我面具的一半

没人是他自己,我看到羽毛状与风搏斗的人影

见证者帮我们遗忘

我坚守活着的状态,我的孤独不容打扰

我是一个一年滚破七层床单的作家
我依赖紧张甚于依赖你的床

我在歌内回忆,并摇动背上的箭镞

谁同情痛苦就去数羊毛

把我的鼓也带走吧,深埋它比敲响它更值得

我身后,这些词利用我的声音
棺木就这么强大

孤独是年轻人的事
一个眼皮覆满死蛾的女人已对准我的星座

垂钓者瞪着鱼一样的眼睛,他们在观察自己的心

树木望得更远,不再有障碍,它们交出了障碍
抽打树木的孩子个个都是天使,一个比一个矮

练习这不完美,大地没有另外的视力
世界有个痛苦的母亲

父亲被母亲挡着,大提琴就有梨形的臀部

我怕雷声,妈妈也怕,我爱我怕的

一只大鸟望着我,用母性的神情
我蒙着脸,快乐地长牙

我穿着金鱼穿过的衣裳,就能从口袋不断掏出糖果

树木穿着小男孩的短裤揩擦天空
寄往母亲坟墓的信到达

我梦着,梦到我不再是一匹马

无为太昂贵,晚年的雷声把它送到
闪电喜爱从未占有

灵魂没有准备,珍贵的事物藏匿着
比母亲的坟墓还要忠实

墓石亲吻墓石,其间有打开肉体的再次努力

一匹马奔来,我们相识,于是马奔走
又一匹奔来,于是我奔走……

Published on April 17, 2020

2020-04-16T21:33:19+00:00