A Dead Turk


Was he English, or French?
Some said he was a Turk.
Anyway, he was a foreigner
Ending his journey
In this village.
Here
No one hears any chanting from a church,
Or any prayer;
Only several calls of a rooster at noon,
Those several sad reports,
Announced the departure of this man.
Was it cholera, or scarlet fever?
Who knows?
Some said his was homesickness.
But people here don't understand
What homesickness is.
They proceed from homes to the fields,
And from fields
To their homes,
Walking back and forth
For ten generations, a hundred generations,
While the roadside weeds turn yellow and green again.

Migrant birds come and go.
They are familiar with all these
And they know
Whose dog it is that barks like a wail,
Or the old man of which family
Has lost several teeth . . .
They never paid attention
To why there are people leaving their hometown
To travel here and there
Like tumbleweeds in autumn wind
Like homeless souls,
Like this Turk.
Now, the Turk
Is lying down on an earthen kang in a small inn,
His face covered
By perpetual peace.
In peace perhaps
He is listening to people talk–
They don't know how
To dispose of this strange person:
"Throw him into a mountain creek?"
Someone asked.
Another wanted to drop him in the river,
Letting him follow the water away
And leave nothing behind, not even a trace.
Yet a third one said, "He too is a man,
He too has a soul,
Only when the dead are in peace
Can the living live on undisturbed."

They are, then, to bury the Turk in earth,
In a pauper's graveyard where
There are graves of orphans and widows,
That have been reduced to handfuls of dirt,
Where the bleached bones of beggars and night prowlers
Are gleaming under the weeds dark green,
Where those having sold all they had
And having been drunkards and gamblers over half of their lives
Also go to stay.
To this home for all homeless souls
They are now sending the Turk.
He,
A lonely traveler
From the shores of the Black Sea,
Had once dreamed of strange lands
And their beautiful sights.
He also had heard fairy tales of the Orient,
About someone summoning the wind and the rain,
About an old fox explaining sutras and parables at midnight.
There were also in the Orient women with bound feet,
Their shoes resembling tiny bridges,
And people said of them, each step a water lily.
There were the blue sky and yellow sea of the Heavenly Kingdom,
Limitless huge plains,
And golden dust . . .
But did he ever dream
Of occupying a plot of the Oriental earth,
Together with these lost Oriental souls,
Lying down,
And of letting the warm East wind blow
And cold rains drench
The mound of weedy dirt that covers pleasant dreams?
Perhaps
Perhaps he still thinks of Istanbul,
Of the Turkish prairie,
And of the cattle and sheep over there.
Now only the hard-working farmers here
Will walk from their homes to the fields
And again from the fields
Back to their homes.
Smoking their long pipes
And cloaked in the morning sun and the afterglow,
They'll pass by
Time and time again.
Perhaps by chance they'll mention:
On a certain day in a certain month of a certain year,
There was such and such a human being . . . .


                                             Chinese; trans. Kai-yu Hsu


Li Kuang-t'ien, Chinese, trans. Kai-yu Hsu, Twentieth Century Chinese Poetry, Doubleday, 1963.