[ARCHIVE] “Children Among the Ruins” by Xi Xi, translated by Jennifer Feeley

Poetry / March 2015 (Issue 27)

Children Among the Ruins 廢墟中的兒童
by Xi Xi, translated from the Chinese by Jennifer Feeley

廢墟中的兒童

喂,你叫什麼名字?這位梳馬尾
約九歲的瘦削女孩,站在石砌路旁
廢墟地基上,用流俐英語發問
另外幾個六,七歲男童不說話
只是微笑,一個站在家門口,一個
站在礫石間,一個站在半條斷柱頂
高高在上,灰黑的玄武岩背景中
他們的紫藍綠紅毛衣,風衣運動褲
鮮明奪目,其他成年人,男子
裏頭巾,女子埋在長夜般的黑袍中
 
簡陋的平房全用方石堆砌,露出
拼貼補綴的殘破木門窗,數十隻
綿羊在空地上覓食,找到甚麼?
根本看不見有草,一條水管
不知從多遠來,還要到多遠去
兩隻羊圍在鋅鐵面盆旁低頭喝水
這裏曾是羅馬人建的城市,規模
雖小些,藍圖與龐貝相似,那邊是浴場
這邊是商店和住宅,唯一的不同
劇場雖也露天,卻建在堡壘中
千百年來,不受牛羊踐踏,成為
現存最完整的一座,回音極好:羅馬人哪
眾公民哪,我來,不是為了埋葬凱撒
而是讚美他;導遊說,為了發展
 
旅遊,政府將收回土地,把居民遷徙
徙置這件事,我在香港目擊數十年了
徙置到哪裏,真有妥善安排?
近不近學校,能不能再養羊?
敍利亞通脹高達百分之十二,面對
人口膨脹,軍費龐大兩個難題
在生靈和古蹟之間,真是兩難
樹木砍伐殆盡,如果中國十二億人民
沒有磚石蓋房子,我們是否寧願不要長城?

一九九八 

CHILDREN AMONG THE RUINS

Hey, what’s your name? A ponytailed
Girl about nine years old, all skin and bones, stands atop the foundation ruins
Beside the stone road, firing off questions in perfectly fluent English
A group of six- or seven-year-old boys stays silent
And simply smiles. One’s slouched against a doorway, one’s
Lingering among the rubble, one’s perched upon the stump of a column
Surrounded by towering gray-black basalt
The brightness of their sweaters and windbreaker pants in purple, blue, green,
            and red
Catches the eye. As for the adults: the men
Are draped in headdresses, the women buried in gowns black as endless night
 
Shoddy single-story homes made from piled squared stones expose
A collage of patched-up wooden doors and windows. Dozens of
Sheep forage in vacant lots, but what will they find?
There’s no grass to be seen. There’s an aqueduct
But I don’t know where it comes from or how far it goes
Two sheep gather round a zinc-coated iron tub and bow their heads to drink
This is a Roman city. Though it’s a tad
Smaller in scale, the blueprints call to mind Pompeii—baths over there
Stores and homes over here, the only difference is
While the theater is still open-air, it sits within a fortress
For thousands of years untrampled by livestock, turning out to be
One of the best preserved and most complete. The acoustics are excellent:
            Romans,
Countrymen; I come not to bury Caesar
But to praise him, or however it goes. The guide said, in the name of
 
Tourism, the government is taking back the land and relocating residents
I witnessed this thing called “resettlement” for decades in Hong Kong
Resettled where? Have appropriate arrangements really been made?
Will there be schools nearby? Can people keep raising sheep?
Syria’s inflation rate has skyrocketed to 12%, beset by
Problems of a population boom and a surge in military spending
Yet the conflict really lies between humans and historical sites
With all the deforestation, if the 1.2 billion people of China
Had no bricks and stones to build houses, wouldn’t we prefer not to have a Great
            Wall?

1998

Xi Xi 西西 (author) is the pseudonym of the Chinese author and poet Zhang Yan. She was born in China and came to Hong Kong at the age of twelve. Xi Xi received the Cikada Prize in 2018 and the Newman Prize for Chinese Literature in 2019.

Jennifer Feeley (translator) is the translator of Not Written Words: Selected Poetry of Xi Xi (Zephyr Press and MCCM Creations, 2016), for which she won the 2017 Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize. She holds a PhD in East Asian Languages and Literatures from Yale University and is the recipient of a Luce Foundation Chinese Poetry and Translation Fellowship. One of 25 newly announced NEA Literature Translation Fellowships, Jennifer is translating Xi Xi’s Mourning a Breast. (Photograph of Jennifer © Shi Lessner.)

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