by Lu Xun, translated from the Chinese into English by Matt Turner
I dreamt I was dreaming. I didn’t know where I was, before my eyes, late night, the confining interior of a small hut—and I could also make out a dense forest of stonecrop on the hut’s roof.
On the rough-hewn table the lampshade had just been wiped clean, and the room was bright. In the glare, on the broken couch, under an unknown yet familiar hairy, fierce chunk of meat—a thin body trembling from hunger pangs, shock, humiliation, and ecstasy. Yet the skin was relaxed, radiant and smooth; the pale cheeks reddened like liquid rouge over lead.
And the lamp flame also shrunk with fear, and the east was already becoming light.
A wave of hunger, suffering, shock, humiliation and ecstasy shook the sky….
A girl, about two years old, wakened by the sound of the door opening and closing, called out from a straw mat on the floor in the corner: “Ma!”
Agitated, she snapped: “It’s still early, go back to sleep!”
“Ma! I’m hungry, my stomach hurts, will we get anything to eat today?”
“Today we’ll have something to eat. Wait for the sesame cake seller to come, and I’ll get you some.” She reassuringly held out a small piece of silver, and with her unsteady and low and sad voice approached the corner to look at her child. She picked her up, pushed the straw mat away, and moved her to the broken bed.
“It’s early, go back to sleep.” She said this, while at the same time raising her eyes to the sky over the old, busted roof.
Another great wave suddenly rippled across the sky, colliding with the first wave, forming a vortex. It drowned everything around me along with myself, mouth and nose, and I couldn’t breathe.
I moaned, and woke up. Outside the window silver moonlight shone, and it seemed that day was still far off.
I didn’t know where I was, before my eyes was, late night, the confining interior of a small hut—and I knew that I was continuing the broken-off dream. But now the dream came after an interval of many years. The hut was in good shape, inside and out. Inside were a young couple, and a bunch of children. They were confronting an old woman with contempt and loathing.
“Because of you we can’t face the world,” the man angrily said. “You still imagine you raised her, but really you ruined her. It would have been better if she’d starved to death when she was small!”
“I’ve suffered injustice after injustice all my life, because of you!” said the woman.
“And you involved me!” said the man.
“Involved them, too!” said the woman, pointing to the children.
The youngest was playing with a dried reed. He brandished it in the air as though it were a knife, and with a loud voice he said:
The old woman’s lips twitched with spasms. She suddenly seized up, and then calmed down almost instantly. She coolly stood, like a bone-thin statue. She opened the door and walked out into the deep night, leaving the abuse and the cold laughter behind her.
She walked on, into the deep night, and into the endless wilderness. All around were empty wastes, and neither insect nor bird flew in the sky above her head. She stood naked like a stone amidst the wastelands. The past flashed forth in a moment: hunger, suffering, shock, humiliation, ecstasy, and she began to tremble. Trouble, resentment, implication. She began to convulse. “Kill,” and then she calmed down. In a moment it all came together: devotion and estrangement, caring and revenge, rearing and destruction, to bless and to curse…. Then she lifted both hands to the sky, and from her mouth escaped a wordless word: not of the human world, but both human and beast.
When she let out this wordless word, her body became as a great stone. It was already abandoned, degraded yet convulsing. The convulsions were like fish scales, each undulating like boiling water over fire, and immediately the sky trembled like the waves in a sea thrown into tempest.
Then she raised her eyes to the sky, and the wordless word fell utterly silent. But because the trembling radiated outwards, like the sun, the waves in the sky circled around. As if in a hurricane, the waves surged ahead, across the borderless wastelands.
I’d had a nightmare, and I knew this because my hands were pressing down on my chest. In my dream I strained to take those heavy hands away.
June 29, 1925
Matt Turner is the author of the full poetry collections Slab Pases (BlazeVox, 2022), Wave 9: Collages (Flying Islands, 2020) and Not Moving (Broken Sleep, 2019), in addition to the prose chapbooks City/Anti-City (Vitamin, 2022) and Be Your Dog (Economy, 2022). He is co-translator, with Weng Haiying, of work by Yan Jun, Ou Ning, Hu Jiujiu and others. He lives in New York City, where he works as a translator and copy editor.