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Ajmer Rode
If you see an old man sitting alone
at the bus stop and wonder who he is
I can tell you.
He is my father.
He is not waiting for a bus or a friend
nor is he taking a brief rest before
resuming his walk.
He doesn't intend to shop in the
nearby stores either
he is just sitting there on the bench.

Occasionally he smiles and talks.
No one listens.
Nobody is interested.
And he doesn't seem to care
if someone listens or not.

A stream of cars, buses, and people
flows on the road.
A river of images, metaphors, and
similes flows through his head.
When everything stops
at the traffic lights it is midnight
back in his village. Morning starts
when lights turn green.
When someone honks
his neighbor's dog barks.

When a yellow car passes by
a thousand mustard flowers
bloom in his head.

Originally published in the July 2018 issue of Words Without Borders. Original text and translation © 2018 Ajmer Rode. All rights reserved.

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Yao Feng

translated by Julia Sanches

The light retires to the lamp
and suddenly all is dark again
who out there has caught the night-moth
and instructs it in shadow?

After countless drills
the torn-winged moth
no longer knows how to fly
and trails through the twilight
crawling snail-slow
toward the light.

Originally published in the July 2018 issue of Words Without Borders. Copyright © Yao Feng. Used with permission of the author. Translation © 2018 by Julia Sanches. All rights reserved. 

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Agnes Lam

 

translated by Natascha Bruce

 

1. Two Worlds

this city I come from
when I come here
its deep recesses
wield twilight like a knife
slicing the world in two
the world begins with a slot machine
but its end is nowhere to be found
within the world
someone detonates the night
knocks at the gates of ruin
a flash of fortune
and the night is purgatory hot
in the city's heart
people and fire are as one
“Save me! Oh, save me!”
the flash bulbs no longer neutral no longer recording no longer capturing
“Save me! Oh, save me!”
chroniclers become victims
history can be like that
unclear whom to blame

beyond this world
unclear who belongs where
we remember only
after-dinner drinks
nighttime
within the world
chatting at a harbor-view bar
perfume fancy clothes hair spray and English-Chinese-Portuguese
mixing like makeup melted on a face
hard spirits at Opiarium
vodkas at Casablanca
ice cubes leaching color then spilling over with it
wave after wave of neon
faces mixed up like melted makeup
cologne-scented men raising glasses
to toast the slow procession of headlights
merry christmas and a happy new year
welcome back, happy reunion
happy twenty-first century
happy happy
down this drink and we're happy
amid the happy sounds
people sing raucously in Kun Iam’s bay
urinate beneath her lotus dais, a drunken stream
toss glasses in the water, an arc of laughter
at the harbor-view bar, our laughter drowns the song
atop her lotus dais
beautiful as a mermaid
out of place as concessions and colonies
history can be like that
while gods can switch their faces
we remain the same
 

2. The Last Night of Hotel Bela Vista
this city I come from
when I come here
at its high points
in an old sea-view building
Westerners are reminiscing
Chinese are disputing with foreigners
reunification or handover
we raise half-glasses of red wine
to mourn Bela Vista
thinking of a hundred-year-old hotel
on this new page of history
kept chaste as a young maiden
for a single representative of a single country
the jazz musician can't help but
play a sad postcolonial tune
waiters in starched white uniforms
approach the walkway’s pale-yellow pillars
to water oleanders redder than wine
the blossoms count lamp shadows
that come with the falling mist
misty recesses
obscure the lanterns at the end of the walkway
and high above
a white ceiling fan sheds no color
still as days not yet begun
there is no today, no tomorrow
no need to weep or say good-bye
but the days will start with this sad farewell song
before the tune is over
secret lovers drain their cups
dry, red-eyed glances saying
let’s keep hold of this night
let’s linger beneath the oleanders
like a clichéd war romance
history can be like that
a constant cycle of invasion and retreat
thinking of tomorrow
they return to the long table
forget that intoxicating floral scent
and with the red-jacketed musician in the background
sit as wooden as colonial ladies
among the glint of glasses
a silver knife traces scar after scar
men and women are careful, gracious
meat juices on snow-white porcelain are
slick, crimson
we clink glasses
drink up the scenery we cannot fall in love with
 

3. That’s how it goes
this city I come from
when I come here
across its wide expanses
the century says good-bye
to the insatiable desire of flash bulbs and zoom lenses
for shot after shot of wiped-away tears
gone then here again, here again then gone
the lone eye of the lighthouse must stay silent
he long since saw through
all this it's nothing but
the money-making game of the chroniclers and chronicled
when the lone eye blinks once again
beneath the flash bulbs and the zoom lenses
the Chinese Westerners Macanese will be as one
no disputes
chroniclers and chronicled as one
reunification, yes, reunification 
across the wide expanses
within the century
night mists whip darkness across the sky
the glimmer in the lone eye dims like God's glory
it can only rally, never meet
where the black mists settle
the night is as heavy as history
weighing on my eyes
it aches, how it aches
and I'm sleepy
thinking of before the mists
of the flash bulbs and zoom lenses
and the city they sought
but we
the chroniclers and the chronicled
in a flash, a few fleeting moments
forget that era
forget that city's name
to forget, oh, to forget
the chroniclers and the chronicled

this city I come from
has no name
that’s how it goes
neither do I
that’s how it goes 

Originally published in the August 2018 issue of Words Without Borders. Copyright © Agnes Lam. Used with permission of the author. Translation © 2018 by Natascha Bruce. All rights reserved.

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Nhã Thuyên

translated by Kaitlin Rees

 

In the ongoing fruitless search for a third-person-singular and gender-neutral term that remains both familiar and human in English, as "hắn" does in Vietnamese, the author and translator have settled on “that one.”

I don’t want to construct an obvious figure, actually, I can’t stand the model who fuels inspiration into this short story, I can’t stand that one the way someone with a chronic sinus infection can’t stand abnormal shifts in weather, I can’t stand that one to the point that every time I happen to be sitting among that one in a crowd, I start to feel short of breath, or whenever I feel short of breath, I immediately know that one’s scent must be in the air, though when am I ever not short of breath, I don’t want to even give the damn name there a form a hair color of sun-charred rust, a complexion of leaden motor oil, owl eyes or a hawk beak nose, with teeth just begging to tear apart the sky, I would rather no one remember anything about that one, I would rather that one have nothing “memorable,” and forget about the reader’s asking me for that one’s biography, matter of fact for that one’s mood to be more “truly human” of course, such luxury, no I will not stoop to placing a name on this figure, I would even toss those third-person-singular words that I feel are still too overly neutral and objective, like “one,” “guy,” “it,” “he,” “she” unless there was some one-syllable word more deserving, more potently biting to use as a replacement, I couldn’t call that one “zero,” you know very well it’s got two syllables there, and such plump, beautiful ones too, and I couldn’t call that one “shit” or “pig” or “trash” because unfortunately I’m someone inherently fair to all substances and categories of existence, like I said already, I’m not strong enough to kill that one with a gun, anyway how would I even get a gun, I can’t strangle that one, can’t strike that one down, cannot, I’ve got no strength at all, you know very well already how unsavory I am, matter of fact what a loser I am, on my ass all day eating, unemployed, without salary, and the fact that I love indulgently, live crudely, erratically, numerously, the fact that I’m scorning others, and for all that I still don’t have the spine to live quite as brutally as my deep wish is, to complete the self-portrait, like I already said, I decide to write about that one now, without biography, without mood, without name, without a single moral or immoral thing about that one, nothing at all, only to act out my impotent wish, downright tragic, I should find a way to erase that one, erase that one bit by bit, till that one’s extinct, there, there, the loser incapable of adding anything to this colorful diversity of existence, incapable of doing even one empty thing, right there, right there, the damn name watches me in a puddle of filthy water as I piss, a field of loser existence piss.

Originally published in the June 2018 issue of Words Without Borders. Copyright © Nhã Thuyên. Used with permission of the author. Translation © 2018 by Kaitlin Rees. All rights reserved.

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Amarjit Chandan

 

translated by Sarabjeet Garcha

Clocks books and keepsakes
never tell what the time now is
inside them the clock strikes 11 after 1 
before 1 there’s zero

the flat-bottom metal bowl
balanced on the mantelpiece roils
letting out sounds as if
slipping out of hand a filled cup
has just emptied itself
or as if at midnight a cat
is raking darkness in a kitchen corner
or as if quaffing her thirst Mother
has just set the bowl down

this bowl is older than i
it is filled with memories
like salt dissolved in yogurt milk
Father licks his greased mustache
Mother giggles at something she recalls
from times long past

the cracked bowl is her only heirloom
the chhayapatra hovering in a nook
always holds my mother in the folds
of remembrance

Originally published in the July 2018 issue of Words Without Borders. Copyright © 2018 Amarjit Chandan. Translation © 2018 by Sarabjeet Garcha. All rights reserved.

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Navtej Bharati
Time aged me
while I slept
I will not forgive it
for this treachery

I will not accept this old age
grafted slyly on my body
I will hide in the
leaves of grass
in the drops of water.
Will slip away
from its wrinkled hands.

Originally published in the July 2018 issue of Words Without Borders. Original text and translation © Navtej Bharati. All rights reserved.