5 Bilinguacultural Poems

盲人摸象(the Blind Feels the Elephant): Another East Idiom  
Here’s the elephant, 
                                        Said Rajah’s servant to one blind
Man, showing him its head. To another, its ears; &
To the third, its trunk, & the tusk, the foot, back, tail &
Tuft in turn. Then, Rajah asked each to describe what
An elephant is. It’s like a pot, answers the one presented
With the head. No. It’s like a winnow, the one who has
Studied its ears. In fact, it’s a ploughshare, the tusk-man
Claims. You are all wrong. It’s a plough per se, insisted
The trunk-man. 

                           Add all your descriptions together, says 
Rajah finally, & you can perhaps get the whole picture! 
                                                                         Or can we?

Fire vs Water: Another Lesson in Chinese Characters


灶 /zao/: an oven is built by setting a fire beside a pile of earth
灿 /can/: splendid is the view of a fire sweeping over a mountain
烟 /yan/: smoke originates as a cause flickering like a spark 
烦 /fan/: frustration occurs when a fire burns a page 
烧 /shao/: to burn something is to set a fire high on it
炒 /chao/: to fry is to use little fire
烙 /lao/: to iron is to burn each and every spot
炉 /lu/: a stove is the fire burning in a household
炮 /pao/: a cannon is a fire wrapped tight


沙 /sha/: sand is something holding little water
河 /he/: a river has water allowing everything possible
洗 /xi/: to wash is to put something into water first
波 /bo/: waves surge when water flows like skin
注 /zhu/: to focus is to be the master of water  
源 /yuan/: a wellspring is the original water
泪 /lei/: tears are water seeping from the eyes
洒 /sa/: to spread is to throw water into the west
演 /yan/: a performance is a show in respect for water
酒 /jiu/: wine is water fully matured

The Confession of a Calendar
             it all began with an animal race Emperor Jade called to amuse himself and his earthly subjects...
鼠 Rat:                yes, i admit betraying the cat as my only close friend
                            but i won the race, with my head rather than my legs

牛 Ox:                 to honor my contract with the yellow sun
                            i eat green grass, yet give red meat to man

虎 Tiger:             as the only feared king of the thick jungle
                            i am afraid and tired of my own timidness

兔 Rabbi:            with my cagey ears held so high
                            i will not miss a sound of peace

龙 Dragon:         although my portraits hung lively above the clouds
                            no human eyes have ever seen my authentic being

蛇 Snake:            the moment i sloughed off my old slim self
                            i forgot ever seducing any manhood in heaven

马 Horse:            my body looks more masculine than a strong man
                            and my heart feels more feminine than a tender girl

羊 Goat:             when i bleat towards the passers-by
                            i never mean to speak in an other voice

猴 Monkey:        each time i try to find any lice in the corner of my mind
                            i act like the humans outside the fence with barbed wire

鸡 Rooster:         with my wings plumed with the feathers of night
                            i can not fly but to crow loudly towards dawn

狗 Dog:               given my canine camaraderie and pack mentality
                            i feel at home before, among or behind soldiers

猪 Pig:                i spend all my lifetime wisely
                            to guard this single moment

Four East Idioms Reinterpreted

1/ yanerdaoling [掩耳盗铃]
To prevent the sound from being heard
As he tries to steal the only bell in the village
The thief stops his own ears with thick cotton
Believing that no one would find him out

2/ saiwengshima [塞翁失马]
On a snowy evening a poor old frontier tribesman 
Lost his horse, the only means of living he had
While everybody still felt sorry for him a week later
The horse returned home with another one wild

3/ handanxuebu [邯郸学步]
In their fondest hope to walk as gracefully as handsomely as the residents of Handan
People swarm in from every part of the country to learn and practice the ‘capital steps’
But many have failed to learn the new steps while others forgot their old ways
So they all have to crawl back on their fours to where they originally came from

4/ yegonghaolong [叶公好龙]
Instead of God, Money, Computer, Sex or Art, Mr Ye believes in Dragon only
He loves the legendary animal so much so that he paints it on every surface he can find
Deeply moved by his devoted passion, a real dragon comes down to visit him  
But no sooner has he seen its face than he jumps to flee, with his pants all wet with fright

五行诗 (A Wuxing Poem): Fate Forecasting

1 金 Metal (born in a year ending in 0 or 1)
-helps water but hinders wood; helped by earth but hindered by fire
he used to be totally dull-colored
because he came from the earth’s inside
now he has become a super-conductor
for cold words, hot pictures and light itself
            all being transmitted through his throat

2 水 Water (born in a year ending in 2 or 3)
-helps wood but hinders fire; helped by metal but hindered by earth
with her transparent tenderness
coded with colorless violence
she is always ready to support
or sink the powerful boat
                           sailing south

3 木 Wood (born in a year ending 4 or 5)
-helps fire but hinders earth; helped by water but hindered by metal
rings in rings have been opened or broken
like echoes that roll from home to home
each containing fragments of green
trying to tell their tales
                    from the forest’s depths

4 火 Fire (born in a year ending 6 or 7)
-helps earth but hinders metal; helped by wood but hindered by water
your soft power bursting from your ribcage
as enthusiastic as a phoenix is supposed to be
when you fly your lipless kisses
you reach out your hearts
                           until they are all broken

5 土 Earth (born in a year ending in 8 or 9)
-helps metal but hinders water; helped by fire but hindered by wood
i think not; therefore, I am not
what I am, but I have a color
the skin my heart wears inside out
tattooed intricately
             with footprints of history

Yuan Changming

What is the significance of this work to you?

As an English author with a Chinese personality, I have always wanted to do something poetically straddling between the two linguacultures. For me, it is not only a challenge but also a mission to write some good bilinguacultural poems, in which to introduce certain authentic Chinese cultural traditions to the English reader.

What is the significance of the form(s) you chose for this work?

The 'bilinguacultural' forms adopted in these pieces are my own inventions, which I hope will make the Chinese content understandable to the non-Chinese reader.

What was your process for creating these pieces?

First I selected what I found interesting from among Chinese cultural traditions, especially idioms and folklores. Then I rendered them into English by reworking the original subject matter. Finally, I tried to integrate the original Chinese characters into the poem as compatibly as possible.

Yuan Changming edits Poetry Pacific with Allen Yuan in Vancouver. Credits include  Pushcart nominations, poetry awards as well as publications in Best of the Best Canadian Poetry (2008-17), & Best New Poems Online, among others.   

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