Jeffrey Yang, “Xi-Turtle”


Follow the third guideway thru
the Eastern Mountains, pass
the Desert of Shifting Sands to
Tiptoe Peak, bare of plants
and trees but full of jade and giant
snakes, you’ll find Deep Lake
where the sacred Xi-Turtle dwells.
The markings on its shell foretell;
its stomach emanates strange sounds.
Says Master Zhuang: What people
know is inferior to what they do not know.

From An Aquarium. Although this is his first collection of original poems, Yang is the translator of work by the 11th-century Chinese poet Su Shi as well as a collection of other poets in the era of the Tang and Song dynasties. See, for example, nine examples of his translation from Words Without Borders.

The last two lines of this poem quote the Taoist philosopher Zhuangzi.

The poems in An Aquarium, arranged alphabetically by title, are largely about fish, or employ aquatic metaphor, but that’s not all Yang does— see “Bedsong for A” from Jacket. Yang will be reading from An Aquarium tonight at Three Lives, the West Village indie bookshop; I’m told it’s his birthday, so be sure to wish him well if you go!

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11 November 2008 | poetry |