A Lifetime is a Promise to Keep

by    /  August 5, 2009  / No comments

translated by Michelle Yeh

The First Intimation

A tree appears in February.

God knows how many trees there are in the world that look just like it, but for me there is only one.

It flashes outside the train window and disappears, hardly catching your attention before it goes out of your sight.

There it stands, on a small mound, a quiet mound where nothing out of the ordinary has ever taken place.

“Take me with you!” A faint cry wafts from the distant sky and the surrounding mountains.

I turn my head.

It’s as if out there, on the small, motionless mound, a lonely passion stands, rustling.

To read this poem in Chinese, click here.

I am a scream coming
From the raging years piled around me

I am a crushed diamond
In every tiny piece lives a sun

I am I I am my own obituary
I shall ransom me from death

To read this poem in Chinese, click here.


“Who’s plotting against me?” I wonder to myself as I squat in the yard.

“Tell me! Tell me!” A ferocious gleam in my eyes, I scrutinize the world around me: my wife, my daughter, the cradle, iron stove, washtub, canvas frames, bookshelves . . .

and the wutong tree now completely without leaves.


This is a bitter cold secret.

A splashing sound shatters the snow-white world in an instant; broken pieces of crimson fury pile around my feet.

The giant plantain leaves stir a little. I catch my wife and daughter lurking behind the green wall. Through the cracks, two pairs of frightened eyes are looking at me as if at a stranger.

“It must be my enemy.” I sit down, trying to extract him from my imagination. Suddenly, I shoot up like a bullet as if my pants were on fire. The smooth, rounded object I was sitting on turns out to be a rock in the shape of a horse’s ass. “That must be it!” Out of nowhere rage seizes me as I grind my teeth and glare at it, ready to give it a heavy beating.

Strange! When I touch the rock, it emits a puff of warm air. I try to shake it, but the rock doesn’t budge at all. I stick out a finger and poke it hard in threat; the rock utters what sounds like a feeble cry. Quite pleased, I throw myself at it, hitting it with my fists and kicking it with my feet. Paralyzed with fear, my wife and my daughter fall down on the splintered pieces of the rock’s shriek.

I glare at them with a sigh: Pitiful fools!

To read this poem in Chinese, click here.

Singing Solo

Who am I
I am the lonely ghost of a waterfall
A poem
Living apart from the crowd forever
My drifting song follows an itinerant
My only audience

To read this poem in Chinese, click here.

From Michelle Yeh, trans. and intro., A Lifetime Is a Promise to Keep: Poems of Huang Xiang. China Research Monograph 63. Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, 2009. Pp. xiv-xv, 2-3, 10-11, 20-23, 36-37. Copyright © 2009 by The Regents of the University of California. Reproduced by permission.

A Lifetime is a Promise to Keep

Huang Xiang

Another Kind of Vastness:
Introduction to Huang Xiang’s Poetry

Michelle Yeh

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.