- Venice Elegy 2 Rot Poem
rot holds the long rows of this great ship of stonerot holds your footstep my footstep
walking the toppled waste where the Admiral gazes down upon the watermarble window frames door lintels elaborately carvedthe oil paint of the sky soaks the ebb and flow of tides under the bridge's parapetyoung girls' eyes sparkle on the decksnever afraid to wave good-bye poems of setting sail poems of dreaming
we pass through time like swallows startled by the bells
walk the inverted rotted underwater foresta thousand years of tampinga stinking deep black growth ring holds the palette of the wavessmearing your portrait my portraita rotted portrait is invisible yet like rootsit grows day after day poking at the sea's black-and-blue woundfrom deposits of sludge rise pearls and dead bonesin the sound of colored glass violinsa row of dead sailors locked into the struggle to keep paddling
in ship's holds flooded with brilliant sunshine gold always pornographic enough to make humans dizzier than yesterday
walk narrow alleys where water can't turn backhear seabirds cackle like ghosts howl like infants [End Page 79]
rotting branches gently sway in the green wavesrotting fish embedded in the silver-bright seashells under wallsthe water level climbs timber stakes climbs stone stepslike a curse locks a rusty wooden doorlike a collapse another balcony dragged into black moonlightbleached skeletons pull another balcony's snow-white bones closerin the pitch black moonlight sway shadows of people sway reflections in waterillusion is no metaphorperiscoping centuries pursue their own termination
you this instant I this instantthe little backyard jetty moored where flows a filthy rivertastes unloaded from our flesh spread out on the breezewinged lions vacantly stare at the future [End Page 80]
Yang Lian is a prize-winning Chinese poet. His work has been translated into more than twenty languages, and he has won several international poetry prizes. He makes regular appearances at major international poetry festivals.
Brian Holton's translations include Yang Lian's Narrative Poem (Bloodaxe Books, 2017), which won the 2017 English PEN Award, and Staunin Ma Lane, a collection of classical Chinese poetry in Scots (Shearsman Books, 2016).