from the editor's desk

Westerly 48 cover

From Our Archive: Two Poems by Ouyang Yu

Editor’s note:
‘The Kingsbury Tales: Li Hongzhang’s Tale, a Fragment’ was first published in Westerly 51, November 2006.
‘Mathematics’ was first published in Westerly 48, November 2003.


The Kingsbury Tales: Li Hongzhang’s Tale,
a Fragment

Perhaps you do not know this name?
Or you think it is just another cheap migrant?
You are not right for this is the guy
Assigned the task of dealing with the Allied Forces
During their occupation of Peking in 1901
As the principal negotiator
To end the Boxer Rebellion
Li toured Europe in 1896
Among his entourage of 45 people
There was a huge decorated golden lacquer
Coffin
A bei shui yi zhan tradition
In which soldiers were forced to fight the enemy with waters behind them
And the general, with a coffin beside him
Li was to go to fan bang, foreign nations
Like going into a den of tigers and wolves
Who were to devour Peking in five years
He was to be exhausted and die after the negotiation
His coffin went on show, beside him
In Great Britain where he observed the parliament in session
And commented on the senseless quarrelling as “nothing much worth seeing”
He spat on the exquisite English carpets wherever he went
And treated the dog-gift given him
By General Gordon’s wife
The way a cook did: stewed it and ate it
In America, Li mixed the Chinese food and the Western
Thus creating a new culinary genre called zasui
In Hengbin or Yokohama, he vowed never to touch the Japanese soil
Not even the cement of the port
Risking a fall into the ocean
He walked the gangplank from his American ship
To get on board his Chinese
….
When the Xinchou Treaty or the Boxer Protocol was signed in 1901
With 450 million taels of silver to be paid as indemnity
Based on the total Chinese population of 450 million
One tael per head
Li coughed blood
And died
Ever afterwards he is known as a Traitor
Ah well, just put yourself in his shoes
And imagine how you’d deal with those wolfish foreign powers
Inside your house
If you are a loser1

1Historical facts in this poem are based on Wang Shuzeng, 1901 nian (In 1901) (Vol. 2). Beijing: Kunlun Publishing House, 2001, p. 93-700.

 

Mathematics

my father was an accountant
my mother was a statistician
I’m not a good mathematician
my mother used to scold me
for not being good at doing my sums
she said: look at Han Qiao next door
who’s much quicker than you
we grew up together
but he ended up a criminal
& i end up a poet
we were both not very dissimilar
my father & my mother are dead now
they were born in the early 20s
i was born in the mid-50s
i lived with them until 18
they left me when i was 39 and 45, respectively
i have two younger brothers
but not a single sister
there are 16 grandfathers
on my mother’s side
there are 10 aunts on my father’s
my father used to chastise me
for being too muddle-headed
to work out who is who in our big extended family
this is not funny
this is all true
much as i am
against autobiography
i still need to do my sums
before i sum my own life up
as i said to my only son:
“you want to spin the world with numbers
not bind it with lines as i do”
nor would you, i’m sure

 

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