Xi Chuan translated by Lucas Klein

A sudden power outage, and I’m convinced
I live in a developing nation

a nation where people read by moonlight
a nation that abolished imperial exams

a sudden power outage, and I hear
wind chimes and a cat’s footbeats upstairs

in the distance an engine stops with a thud
the battery-powered radio beside me still singing

once the power’s out, time turns back quickly:
candles light up the little eateries

the fat kid munching on crow meat notices
crows gathering on trees

and the pitch blackness before me
like a seaswell womb

a mother hangs herself from rafters
each room its own special odor

Power outage. I touch a slipper
but mutter: “Quit hiding, matches!”

in the candlelight, I see my own
great big wordless shadow cast upon the wall

from Xi, Chuan. Notes on the Mosquito: Selected Poems, translated by Lucas Klein. (NY: New Directions, 2012) By permission of the translator and New Directions Publishing.


  1. I was not prepared for the high lyricism of the simile nor for " a mother hanging..." line. The poem goes dark in many ways.

  2. Love the reference to the cat's footbeats upstairs. I thought the poem was taking us in the direction of a political statement--all the subtle details we miss in our busy, electronic lives. But yes, then the crow enters the poem, the hanging, the shadow.

  3. Powerfu! A poem to come back to. A poem that will haunt me.

  4. the inability to get at; inexperience in the dark. Wonderful poem.


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