Poems by Yang Li

Yang Li’s "Glorious."


Back in our day there wasn’t anyone who didn’t know Albania
who didn’t know it was the bright light of European Socialism
or that the other bright light was us. Back then
from Beijing to Tirana, we could all sing
A bosom friend afar brings distance near … It wasn’t till much later that
I learned these words were by Wang Bo of the Tang
He died a long time ago and was never in Tirana.
I doubt he’d ever heard of the place, much less that it was very, very small.
A pal of ours named Wei Guo once said to us rather cryptically: all
Albania is just like the little upstart kingdom of Yelang.
I remember, I swear: it was the summer of ’74.
We had just turned 12 and thought what he’d said outrageously reactionary.



Spring Days

I live by myself in Beijing’s Tiantongyuan East Section 3
apartment complex on the first floor in a unit with a large lanai
the apartment belongs to my girlfriend, Ms. “Chrysanthemum” Wang
she used to share the place with me, but now
she doesn’t. She moved further into town, just two stops from Xidan
but still comes round on weekends to gripe and clean
until the middle of the night, when she’ll suddenly recall our sex life
Ah, love in the Nuclear Age! Spring days grow long, and the foliage is lush . . .
I admit that at first I liked giving oral sex
but lately I just like getting it: oral sex had its day but now it’s dead and gone
I’ve squirreled it away in far off Tehran
where there’s oil underground, the women veil their faces
and an entire nation is scrambling to build the bomb



When We Eat We Never Talk About Sex

Xiao Yang said
it’s not that I don’t want to
but that I never get the chance
when she finished speaking
she turned
and looked out the window
where it was still raining
it was actually only drizzling
but it hadn’t stopped for three days and nights
well then
I said
unless you have an objection
let’s talk about sex
orgasms for instance
Xiao Yang kept looking out the window
beyond which
the rain obscured the distant buildings
like a curtain
you mean my orgasms?
she said
I haven’t seen one of those in a long, long time
like some cat that’s run off and never came back
she stopped
I knew there was something
more she wanted to say
but in the end
she didn’t say it

— translated by Steve Bradbury



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