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fluid The first installment in our “Fluid” portfolio takes on the liquid nature of memory, and how stories can become a flood that sweeps away the present, if only for a moment. These tales have a power all their own, and live on long after their telling—although without the right teller, they might lose their force.

 
 
 
 
 
 

Stories
To my grandfather

by Zhu Zhu
Translated by Dong Li
 
I

Old, old like a boat facedown on the shore,
for cargo it held echoes of stormy waves;
old like the oldest house on this street,
through the window flashed an impenetrable darkness.

Mostly he slumbered on a sprung wicker chair,
his snore ceaselessly pumping bellows in the kitchen,
now and then you would see him raise a heavy arm
to shoo a fly that clung to his nose tip.

When night fell, the kerosene lamp
was turned up bright, deep in its sooty glass top,
his aged frailty would drain away
like water smelling of rust from a whetstone—
 
II

Then he would start telling us stories.
His hoarse voice was like a flood tide of a river
that passed shoals of asthma and abandoned docks,
out of fogbound gorges into ancient battlefields.

Along the way staunch men gripped tight to plows,
whose eyes glared even in dreams, hearing the rising tide
as if hearing the bugle call, they immediately
threw themselves into another endless fight.

Each clash of swords and neigh of battle steeds
would stir roaring waves of dread in my mind,
and within a tent that leaned in the autumn wind,
a stream in a woman’s eyes, wet my cheek.
 
III

Stories older than himself,
those stories that he heard when very young
from the very old, and stories
brought back from faraway journeys, these were

all the gold coins that he laid by in a life of poverty,
saved up in the vault of his mind,
never misplaced, and every night
their jingling made a delightful sound.
 
IV

Now he sleeps long under the earth,
like a radio with its waves
the black walnut box that holds his ashes
has vanished in the deep of the earth, and now

the stories are wrapped in stiff bindings
like specimens, neat and perfect, lined up on shelves;
at times I linger, blow or flick off settled dust,
and page through quietly, searching,

but I know all along, never again
will there be true stories and those who tell them,
night so long, empty like an unfathomable abyss, after the lights
go out, no more suspense rises in the heart, bright like a morning star.

 

Zhu Zhu was born in Yangzhou, China. He is a poet, critic and curator of art exhibitions and has published numerous volumes of poetry and prose, such as Drive to Another Planet, Salt on Wilted Grass, Blue Smoke, The Trunk, Stories, Vertigo, and Grey Carnival—Chinese Contemporary Art since 2000. Zhu’s honors include Liu Li’an and Anne Kao national poetry prizes, the French International Poetry Val-de-Marne Fellowship, The Rotterdam International Poetry Fellowship, Chinese Contemporary Art Award for Critics and Henry Luce Foundation Chinese Poetry Fellowship at the Vermont Studio Center. His first collection in English translation will appear with Phoneme Media in late 2017.

Dong Li was born and raised in P.R. China. His honors include fellowships from German Chancellery-Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Akademie Schloss Solitude, PEN/Heim Translation Fund, Yaddo and elsewhere. He has poems in Kenyon Review, Conjunctions, Cincinnati Review, and translations in Asymptote, World Literature Today, PEN America, Two Lines and others. His work has been translated into German and appeared in manuscript and Neue Rundschau. His book-length translation of the Chinese poet Zhu Zhu The Wild Great Wall will be published by Phoneme Media in late 2017.

Charles Lim Yi Yong (b. 1973) officially represented Singapore at the 56th Venice Biennale (2015) and participated with the collective tsunamii.net, which he co-founded, in documenta 11 (2002).

SEASTATE 9 Proclamation: FORESHORES ACT (CHAPTER 113) (Original Enactment: Ordinance 8 of 1872) REVISED EDITION 1985 (30th March 1987) An Act to provide for reclamations and to validate and facilitate leases or grants of foreshores and submerged lands. [11th October 1872] Declaration regarding reclaimed lands 5. —(1) The President may, by proclamation published in the Gazette, declare any lands formed by the reclamation of any part of the foreshore of Singapore, or any areas of land reclaimed from the sea to be State land, and thereupon that land shall immediately vest in the State freed and discharged from all public and private rights which may have existed or been claimed over the foreshore or the sea-bed before the same were so reclaimed. (2) All land declared to be State land under this section shall be subject to the State Lands Act (Cap. 314).

The Transpacific Literary Project is a platform for writing from across East and Southeast Asia. Read work from our most recent project folio, Fluid.

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