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Manoa 15.1 (2003) 136-138

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Three Poems

Walis Nokan


"More and more like the floating duckweed..."
Someone returned to the tribe this evening
Amid bamboo fences scattered over the mountain
Pondering the pains and regrets of history
Too much rice wine to drink
Makes for incoherent babbling
Mizunuo, you've lived a pretty good life
What makes you suffer so?
Your hut was completed before winter
The peach trees blossomed in the saddle of the mountain
      In the second month
Someone married a girl from a different village
Everyone is overjoyed
So what is it that worries you so?
"Three hundred years ago our ancestors
      wove fishnets and caught fish
Large sailing ships from the West appeared
      blocking out the sun
Fifty years later they shunned the farmed plains
Returning to the forests to hunt
Aside from fighting over the land
We lived in peace with each other
When the Japanese came, what was termed 'civilizing the savages'
Was in fact flogging, from the coast to the mountains
We've been like duckweed the last century..."
Someone returned to the tribe this evening
Rubbing the wound of history getting drunk
No one doubted his suffering
Perhaps he was mourning for his far-flung relatives [End Page 136]
Perhaps he was angry at the destitution of the tribe
But not questioning justice and love
Though quietly drinking and talking
Though someone keeps leaving for distant places
Like a ripe fruit falling from the tree

Youth of Wushe

I don't recognize Tasiqisi's face
The 1920s are too remote from today
Grandma says the pink cherry blossoms flower for him
That day he abandoned his books and returned to his tribe
Led the Atayal people against the canons
They all died in battle, Grandma told me to look at
The monument at the head of the road
The monument is mottled
Covered with lichen
But it's still difficult to cover Tasiqisi's hard work
At the end of the 1970s I graduated from the teacher's college
And was stationed at the front lines, two years later
I took up chalk and taught in a school far from home
Constantly I complained about the wastewater and air pollution
And the problems with public transportation
I'm certain that if you came to the city
You'd be bad tempered too
The cherry blossoms still shimmer in winter
Tasiqisi gradually grows vague
The monument is still covered in lichen
The city performs and plunders
I still have to make a living
In the 1990s I'm still hoping to meet a nice girl and get married
Having a son would be nice
(The world's population is exploding)
Peaceful into old age, if you were I
I think you'd want the same [End Page 137]

Down the Mountain

At the station on the way to Baling Mountain
A woman squats quietly and humbly
While her children run around without worries
They all look very happy.
They are going down the mountain to shop
Using their harsh Mandarin and perhaps
Some gestures too.
It's the spring of 1985,I'm at the station
I saw farmers from the plains in the 1960s
Going to the city, often quiet and ill at ease
In the city, I never speak Atayal
I do my utmost to scrub my dark skin
I do my utmost to suppress my savage blood
And even suppress my childhood memories
I've learned to chat happily with others
Tie a bow tie and drink coffee
They softly pat my shoulders praising me
I suddenly felt weighed down
Today, many years later
At the station on Baling Mountain
Familiar as before, the sound of a woman
Her sadness, and the innocence of the children


Translations by John Balcom

Walis Nokan is a member of the Pai-Peinox group of the aboriginal Atayal tribe in Taiwan. He graduated from Taizhong Teachers College and teaches at Freedom Elementary School in his hometown, Heping Village, in central Taizhong County. Born in 1961, he started writing poetry at the age of sixteen and...


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