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  • Questions of Cranes
  • Chen Xianfa (bio)
    Translated by Ming Di (bio)

Deep in the mountains, I've seen cranesin the form of pillars. Or even of liquid, of gas,or spring mud curled up at the roots of solemn azaleas,their wings withdrawn.I've seen the birds, the fictitious kind,their pure white color full of rejections, butgrowing into a more suitable form on doomsday.

For dying people, to raise cranes is a game,like a minority religion. Writing poetryis something else: the "crane"in this line can be totally replaced. Butnever ask what creatures cry for the cranes.They cry to the east, which is to the west as well.They cry for backroom politics, and for street revolutions.

Like tonight, in the roaring sound of the fan in my bathroomI sit for a long timeas if I will never take a step from here.I am a common man, having never raised a crane or killed one.I know my suffering is ending, along with my duties.I put on a pure white bathrobe, striding to the placeof a bystander, although in a former timeI was the one who made comments. [End Page 26]

Chen Xianfa

Chen Xianfa 陈先发 was born in 1967 in Anhui and graduated from Fudan University in Shanghai. His books of poetry include The Problem of Raising Cranes (2015) and Crevice and Insight (2016). He has also published the novel Soul-Stealing Opera (2006).

Ming Di

Ming Di 明迪 is a Chinese poet based in the U.S. She attended Boston College and Boston University, where she taught Chinese. She has published six books of poetry in Chinese along with a collaborative translation, River Merchant's Wife (2012). She co-translated The Book of Cranes by Zang Di (2015) with Neil Aitken, and Empty Chairs: Selected Poems by Liu Xia (2015) with Jennifer Stern, which was a finalist for the 2016 Best Translation Book Award. She edited and co-translated New Cathay: Contemporary Chinese Poetry (2013) and New Poetry from China 1917–2017 (2019). In 2013 and 2014, she received Henry Luce Foundation fellowships. A co-founder of Poetry East West journal, she serves as the China editor for Poetry International Rotterdam. She has also translates from English into Chinese, most recently Observations by Marianne Moore (2018).



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