- Early Autumn in Zhabei, and: Scene of Summer, and: Fragrant Gladiolus
early autumn in zhabei
Translator's Note: Zhabei is a district in Shanghai that saw great industrialization and cultural development in the early twentieth century, before conflicts with invading Japanese forces in 1937. After capitalist reforms in the 1980s, it was the formerly colonized areas of Shanghai—the "concessions"—which began to flourish while Zhabei was, to a certain extent, left behind. Hongkou, Baoshan, and Putuo are neighboring districts, and the Suzhou River flows through Shanghai to the East China Sea.
The trees' leaves fall, the trash cans are smearedwith the spotless tips of hybrid planes; soonthe tender greens and yellows will give way to umber.No one's noticed, but now is its most solemn hour.
Emerging from Yonghe Road is Gonghe New Road. The asphalt surfaceis enclosed within the limp light of the afternoon. This isShanghai Zhabei district; a hundred years past it filled out on the branchthen in the midst of war wilted quickly away.Today, line one of the subway passes through its atrophied bulk,it bursts out and brings to the surface a touch of autumn.
This touch of autumn has wind, not the kind that shakes leaves from their trees,but the kind that seems to come from the ventilator factory on the corner.This semi-derelict factory has the iron windows of an older time;little glass is intact. The iron door still stands solid;ivy creeps out from its cracks—
This autumn wind has touch, piercing the dense vine,piercing the gray and mug of the everyday. In Zhabeiyou mustn't think of neighboring Hongkou, Baoshan, or Putuo,and don't look to the South, that the Suzhou River might bring,aside from the crisp rebuke of autumn wind, the softness of water. [End Page 179]
scene of summer
On the Yangtze's south bank, afternoon idlyslouches forth. This is an aesthetic space, its depthsstare down your gaze, its schemes of annexation,once conquered, simpler, more complete—On the narrow balcony, a clothes rack wavesthe national flags of the quotidian:discharged from sweat stains, findingcheery cover in the scent of soap.Let them move themselves in the windless air, to feigninclusion in the human world. And let us takea trip downstairs, from the eleventh floor to ground,a right turn to the compound's doors which never close;a journey through the crowds at the corner of Miyun Street.Never have we been so close to the city's noise,fulfilled and ripe, ignoringa plain outsider listening in.Dust coats the drooping leaves;each knows its place along the branch, like the hidden orderwhich sets the stars upon the sky.They thus survey those flimsy things which rise upin the wind and rain and make you forgetall you know about botany and horticulture.But wait. There is oleander,the toxic flower,its inviting reddened lip. [End Page 180]
The night bobs slowly. After the series of events are in placeour feast will begin, everything will become bright.I do not truly understand this kind of plant. The moment it bloomsit dazzles. I fear I will take myself for china and shatter.
The stories are simply too cold; it can be difficult for far-flung practices to take root,fantasy gets blocked at the door, I can only come at it from the rituals of harvest:With the first days of summer, the stigma extends from the leaves, bears flowers.Six shallow rifts emerge, to form a tall bucket corolla, its body slight like gladiolus.I cannot resist this kind of diversion, like I cannot refuse an invitation to drink.
Right now summer is distant, our colors still flat,you and I can still note down the things that we said,let the Chinese character wane in this plant's many names.The secret has been planted beyond the reach of its scent, the military seal of a battle in progress.In the depths of the thicket, let us ambush this season's insurrectionary...