A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Friday, January 29, 2010

Poem of the Day: Zhang Zhen

The Cat at My Friend's House

When you opened the door for us, 
astonishingly you stood upright, motionless, 
You inspected our colossal luggage 
and we also noticed 
the snow white fur on your belly panting up and down 
and that you are a male. 

We drank tea. 
There was a pot of ancient cactus on the windowsill. 
We were told when you are tired 
you take a nap there, 
but you never seemed sleepy 
and your body was always a tense steel spring. 

We didn't dare meet your eyes. 
Your right eye was a flaming red 
and the other was crow-black 
and they both radiated a blue fire at night. 
You were crazy about all kinds of lines, 
shoelaces, table legs, and the chain 
which you pulled, almost severing my neck. 
There was a moment when I was pointing at an old painting 
and instantly your front paws were hanging on my forefinger. 
Later when I was eating 
that finger felt incredibly heavy. 

As we entered night you went completely nuts. 
You put your head into slippers and threw somersaults. 
Then, like an arrow you shot across
the table between us and our friends. 
You bent your body into every terrifying position. 
Then with a loud scream you leaped onto the piano 
and the keys plunked a series of sounds like divination coins. 
The clock struck 
and the wall started to shake. 

The first night all night 
you squatted beside our pillow 
when we were making love 
and groused deep inside your throat 
like a moribund old man suffering from asthma. 
Your eyes were ghost fires 
emitting curses that terrified me. 
I gazed back at you 
and never fell asleep. 

When we were leaving, 
again you opened the door. 
This time you were expessionless, 
but when I got on the train 
I found all my poetry manuscripts 
were bitten to pieces. 

In this life I will find no way to clarify 
if you loved me or hated me, 
but sometimes in deep night I cannot evade you 
if the day before was dark and deadened. 
--Zhang Zhen (translated by Tony Barnstone)

Publishers still send me review copies of books, most of which I give to the public library. But I keep a few for myself, like the one from this poem is taken: Chinese Erotic Poems, a title in the Everyman's Library Pocket Poets series. Maybe I kept it because the book was about three things I don't know much about: China, erotica and poetry. I still can't claim to know much about them, but I can say I've made a start. 

The poems in this collection date from 600 BCE to the present, a reminder that the Chinese had a flourishing civilization when my ancestors were still painting themselves blue and worshiping mistletoe or something. I chose to post here one of the contemporary ones. Zhang Zhen was born in Shanghai in 1961; she got her Ph.D. in Chinese literature and film from the University of Chicago and now teaches film studies at New York University. I like the felineness of her cat, which is clearly more than a cat. It's interesting to compare Barnstone's translation with that of Newton Liu, here

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