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Chinese Silence No. 36

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To make a Chinese poem in English we must allow the silence to creep in around the edges, to define the words the way the sky’s negative space in a painting defines the mountains.
—Tony Barnstone, “The Poem Behind the Poem”

To make a Japanese poem in English
we must allow the silence to creep up upon us
the way the ninja stalks and strangles
his unsuspecting victim.
 
To make an Indian poem in English
we must allow the waters of language to rise
and drown us like the Ganges until
we are reborn in a more accessible form.
 
To make a French poem in English
we must impale ourselves upon the Tour Eiffel
until our bloodcurdling screams evoke that sublime
je ne sais quoi.
 
To make a Spanish poem in English
we must let ourselves be gored by the charging bull
of poesy as we run like idiots through the streets
waving to our friends' cameras.
 
To make an American poem in English
we must level the mountains of language with dynamite
and in the rubble build an ethnic theme park
of charming accents and seething quiet.
 
To make an American poem Chinese
we must silence its creepy edges
and raise an iron-built mountain that mirrors
our own negation to us as if it were gold.

Timothy Yu, "Chinese Silence No. 36" from 100 Chinese Silences. Copyright © 2016 by Timothy Yu. Reprinted by permission of Les Figues Press.
Source: 100 Chinese Silences (Les Figues Press, 2016)
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Chinese Silence No. 36

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