Fish Belly Poem
by Wang Jiaxin
Dr. Xia Kejun said today:
there is no poetry in hell, and heaven does not require it either.
Great literature can only come from purgatory.
Sure, I agree. Destroyed in hell,
like in a gulag or the Jiabiangou labor camp—
there’s a crowd of hungry ghosts and idiots there.
But are we in Dante’s purgatory now?
No, I am reminded of Jonah’s legend—
The prophet Jonah was thrown into the ocean,
and a large fish swallowed him.
We, too, are in the belly of a fish;
It is dirty, but it seems warmer than the ocean outside.
This fish belly has hurricanes, floods (sometimes,
it floods up to your chest, like when you are stuck in a subway car!).
There are eerie clouds as dense as fish scales.
Yet there is care in this fish belly, and they summon us
to get vaccinated in the middle of the night.
In the fish belly, we just can’t find
a table on which to write our great literature.
Does literature matter? We just want to live.
Jonah’s eyes were wide open, and he prayed
in the fish belly for three days and three nights.
And we don’t know
who the master of this big fish is.
We don’t know if we can make it to the very end
or if we will be spit out by this giant fish.
by Wang Yuyang (1634-1711)
The Red Bridge flies across the water—
in a single flow, the railing’s nine red curves.
Noon: a painted boat passes under the bridge:
the clothes’ fragrance, people’s shadows, fleeting, fleeting.
Wang Yuyang (1634-1711) was a leading poet in the early Qing dynasty and frequently chose the Red Bridge in Yangzhou as the setting for literary gatherings.