Saturday, March 30, 2013

Writing on the Sand; Bei Dao's BOAT TICKET

Quarreling with my electronics tonight, so I won't be able to write what I had planned. And writing on sand strikes me as a good metaphor for much of this blogging anyway. But what fun to send it out there!

Carolyn, here's another Bei Dao poem for you. It's from The Rose of Time; new and selected poems, by Bei Dao, edited by Eliot Weinberger, on pages 14-17. Since this particular book brings together the work of different translators, it gives the reader a sense of Bei Dao's world of poetry. I always think it useful to read translations of a poet's work by different writers. Then we can perhaps strain out one translator's idiosyncrasies and get more of a feeling for the poet's true spirit as expressed in his own language.
I will never forget the way Beo Dao stood to one side of the group of Misty Poets on the stage at San Jose State College. I think it was in the mid-1980s. Carolyn Kizer was introducing them in her magisterial manner.  Bei Dao (his writing name) was a little taller than the others and seemed more mature. He had a look that seemed to me lightly sardonic and faintly removed from the proceedings. He also had a heavy hank of dark hair that fell toward his face. I felt the limits of my one language. I still do, were I to try to talk about this poem. Here it is:


He doesn't have a boat ticket
how can he go on board
the clanking of the anchor chain
disturbs the night here

the sea, the sea
the island that rises from the ebbing tide
as lonely as a heart
lacks the soft shadows of bushes
and chimney smoke
the mast that flashes lightning
is struck into fragments by lightning
innumerable storms
have left behind fixed patterns
on rigid scales and shells
and the small umbrellas of jellyfish
an ancient tale
is handed on by the ocean spray from wave to wave

he doesn't have a boat ticket

the sea, the sea
the lichen tightly massed on the reef
spreads toward the naked midnight
along the seagull's feathers gleaming in the dark
and clings to the surface of the moon
the tide has fallen silent
conch and mermaid begin to sing

he doesn't have a boat ticket

time hasn't come to a stop
in the sunken boat the fire is being stoked
rekindling red coral flames
when the eaves tower up
glittering indeterminately, the eyes of the dead
float up from the ocean depths

he doesn't have a boat ticket

yes, it makes you dizzy
the sunlight drying out on the beach
makes you so terribly dizzy

he doesn't have a boat ticket

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