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Burn After Reading

Lui Waitong’s poem “Read and Burn” is a personal text that depicts generations of suffering against the foil of Chinese history. The author takes a retrospective look at her maternal grandfather who in 1975 “faced yet another catastrophe.” Her grandfather remembers his mother and father, but also his own youth and how his anger at this time ripened into a bitter honey. The poem initially consists of memories until we are moved forward in time to 2045—a time when the light and dark forces are still in conflict. It is like being transported back to 1965. To write is to wait for history to repeat itself.

Credits Text: Liu Waitong Translation from Chinese: Lucas Klein June 13 2019


1975. So many
have forfeited their human qualifications
and standing in line to die. Black trees
in the north knotted with gall tumors
the nation is like insects, insects like the nation.
I was born alone in the south
knowing the cold of the skies
the one wearing white with a knife
standing beside mother’s bed, like the Diamond Sūtra
on closer inspection just soft rime.
Once again it’s a year of the living and the dead
stealing from doctors.
Once again a year of the sick bull biting off Egypt.
Rushing back from Hong Kong Father
looked like the god of fire, striking fear in the cadres.
Maternal grandfather statuesque on the barren hill
pockets stuffed with a jumble of isms
his body composed of thin gold
he’s forty-five and faced with confusion
same as the south and a riot of ants.


2016 now past, rip open the pomelo peel
and there I am, muddled up inside
brewing wrath into bitter honey.
These teeth carry on childhood’s hunger
biting back at teen years.
Across the river, I’m still that pony
abdomen wet like blood
when a generation accumulates
all the slogans they shout are Gung Hei Fat Choi
and giraffes risk their lives with somersaults.
Strange how I always recall the rainy night
along a mountain shade road
where the one who got lost was me
and not the raindrops themselves
or the wingtips they have crushed.
To write the next line means forfeiting
the line of infinity. Poetry is an all-out battle, a slaughter
a nonexistent cat bolting at a sound
my brains nourishing
the consecration of my sorrow.


2045. Light consumes
but darkness runs a necessary deficit
bodhisattva machines have not run low on oil
a prostitute shoulders ten thousand tons
Namo Amitābha.
Patriotism precise to
the last leaf
but that doesn’t rule out a blank page
black holing the universe
code biting open a gap of seven light years.
The wine of my old country is too sweet
and the new world is going up in flames
on the plank bridge Tārā is crossing
in ten thousand bent forests the qilin are being butchered.
2035. Gold falls to less
than manure, property developers seek the eye of a needle
in the rush only Qu Yuan is reborn
a tongue-tied sharp stone
screaming toward its target, 1965.

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