John Kinsella translates Ouyang Yu

By November 2021, Ouyang Yu has published 137 books in both English and Chinese in the field of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, literary translation and criticism. His second book of English poetry, Songs of the Last Chinese Poet, was shortlisted for the 1999 NSW Premier’s Literary Award. His third novel, The English Class, won the 2011 NSW Premier’s Award, and his translation in Chinese of The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes won the Translation Award from the Australia-China Council in 2014. He won the Judith Wright Calanthe Award for a Poetry Collection in the 2021 Queensland Literary Awards, his bilingual blog at:



Intermingling the waves of sleep
with the bric-a-brac of instructions,

I shift one word via another word
and take a left turn at a left turn

wondering which direction
they want me to take — I refuse,

of course, looking for codes
in the blossoming of transplanted

trees, those uprights of consonants
in the calligraphy I write maps with;

how much eating and shitting
can the room of a vowel take

out of homonyms and the particles
I line up to the appropriate side

of some old old universe — blowing
hot & cold, the stem of a lotus

simply the direction heaven lays down:
atonal tones on an instrument tongue —

seconded people leaving my mouth,
shout outs and tongue twists waking asleep.


John Kinsella’s recent books include the memoir Displaced: A Rural Life (Transit Lounge, 2020), the co-written poetry collection The Weave (with Thurston Moore, UWAP, 2020) and the collection of stories Pushing Back (Transit Lounge, 2021). Vagabond published Supervivid Depastoralism (poems) and Five Islands Press (Apothecary Archive) Saussure’s Kaleidoscope: Graphology Drawing-Poems in 2021. UWAP will bring out the first volume of his collected poems The Ascension of Sheep: Poems 1980-2005 in early 2022. He lives in wheatbelt Western Australia on Ballardong Noongar land.

Ouyang Yu translates Zhang Meng

Zhang Meng, born in 1975, is a member of Shanghai Writers Association and has published five books of poetry.


High Summer

I was sitting beneath a cool loofah shed
I had let go of a strayed snake
the one I didn’t want to see went past my door on time again
I had won praise from a goose
I am always eased into sleep by the sound of cicadas
I walk on the earthen road with bright puddles
moonlight like flat salt, salt in the country
my old neighbour, prior to the coming of his centennial
cries for his dead partner every night
I often dream of the ancient gingko that wakes up
its bulgy bark thicker than a history book
the autumn wind was cruising in the reeds
decades after, there are fresh footprints of wild rabbits
apart from those of the egrets, and in the dews
and the thin birdcalls in the early mornings
I wander between the stone bridge and the sound of the tide
I blow the sound of a reed that defies understanding
I’ve lost myself, having woken up
another self

but, I am in a cinema


By November 2021, Ouyang Yu has published 137 books in both English and Chinese in the field of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, literary translation and criticism. His second book of English poetry, Songs of the Last Chinese Poet, was shortlisted for the 1999 NSW Premier’s Literary Award. His third novel, The English Class, won the 2011 NSW Premier’s Award, and his translation in Chinese of The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes won the Translation Award from the Australia-China Council in 2014. He won the Judith Wright Calanthe Award for a Poetry Collection in the 2021 Queensland Literary Awards, his bilingual blog at:

Alexander Alexandrovich Blok translated by Paul Magee

Alexander Alexandrovich Blok was born in 1880 and died in 1921. He is celebrated as the foremost of the Russian symbolists. His first book was entitled Verses about the Beautiful Lady.




фонарь, аптека

Ночь, улица, фонарь, аптека,
Бессмысленный и тусклый свет.
Живи ещё хоть четверть века —
Всё будет так. Исхода нет.

Умрёшь — начнёшь опять сначала
И повторится всё, как встарь:
Ночь, ледяная рябь канала,
Аптека, улица, фонарь.
Night, a street-lamp and a chemist’s

Night, a street-lamp and a chemist’s.
This lustreless, meaningless globe.
Have twenty more years, or some more.
No one’s ever known an exit.

You’ll die. Start it all over again:
everything repeats the past.
Night, an ice-cold ripple
in the canal, a street-lamp and a chemist’s.


Paul Magee is author of Stone Postcard (2014), Cube Root of Book (2006) and the prose ethnography From Here to Tierra del Fuego (2000). Paul majored in Russian and Classical languages, and has published translations of Vergil, Catullus, Horace and Ovid. He is currently working on a third book of poems, The Collection of Space. Paul is Associate Professor of Poetry at the University of Canberra.

Marina Tsvetaeva translated by Paul Magee

Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva was born in 1892. She left Russia in 1922, returned in 1939, and was to die two years later. She is celebrated as one of the greatest Russian poets of the Twentieth Century. Her first book was entitled Evening Album.





За этот ад,
За этот бред,
Пошли мне сад
На старость лет.

На старость лет,
На старость бед:
Рабочих — лет,
Горбатых — лет...

На старость лет
Собачьих — клад:
Горячих лет —
Прохладный сад...

Для беглеца
Мне сад пошли:
Без ни-лица,
Без ни-души!

Сад: ни шажка!
Сад: ни глазка!
Сад: ни смешка!
Сад: ни свистка!

Без ни-ушка
Мне сад пошли:
Без ни-душка!
Без ни-души!

Скажи: довольно мýки — нá
Сад — одинокий, как сама.
(Но около и Сам не стань!)
— Сад, одинокий, как ты Сам.

Такой мне сад на старость лет...
— Тот сад? А может быть — тот свет? —
На старость лет моих пошли —
На отпущение души.


To cope with this underworld
you’ve sent me, and madness,
make it a garden
for the years that age.

For the years that age,
for the griefs I’ve to live through,
the years of work coming
and the groanings in my back.

For the years that age.
Bone for that dog.
For the hell-burnt years.
A garden in the breeze

for their refugee.
Bless me with a garden
and nobody there,
a soulless place.

Garden no one steps in.
Garden no one looks in.
A laughterless garden,
a no whistling there

bless me with a garden.
Nothing has a scent there,
not a soul.

Speak: you’ve tortured enough.
A garden on its own.
But don’t come near me here or there.
Yes, he says, it’s as alone as me.

That’s your garden for me and the years
I age. That. Or your paradise?
Bless me in the years that age.
Deliver me from here.


Paul Magee is author of Stone Postcard (2014), Cube Root of Book (2006) and the prose ethnography From Here to Tierra del Fuego (2000). Paul majored in Russian and Classical languages, and has published translations of Vergil, Catullus, Horace and Ovid. He is currently working on a third book of poems, ‘The Collection of Space’. Paul is Associate Professor of Poetry at the University of Canberra.

Paul de Brancion translated by Elaine Lewis

Paul de Brancion is the author of about fifteen novels and poems. He is regularly involved in transversal artistic projects, with contemporary art centres or music composers (T. Pécou, J-L. Petit, G. Cagnard, N. Prost, …). He lives and works between Paris, Corsica and Nantes. Where he organises and presents “Les Rendez-vous du Bois Chevalier”, annual events dedicated to literature, science and poetry.
He is editor-in-chief of the magazine Sarrazine, president of the Union des Poètes & Cie and representative in France of the WPM (World Poetry Movement).



Ça fait tout drôle, ce manque de légèreté. Des maisons, des meubles, des tapis, des mauvais livres, une sorte d’indélicatesse du goût. Comment peut-on survivre à cet environnement d’un si mauvais genre ?
Profusion, c’est le mot en français. Excès. Mor avait quelque chose d’excessif que je craignais infiniment. Il était dangereux pour moi d’être en relation avec elle. Même mon amour pour elle était inconvenant. Elle parlait très vite et beaucoup. Un déluge de mots était prononcé et je m’éloignais en marchant le plus loin possible du courant continu de ses phrases. Elle était le maître de la vérité. Elle priait et sa prière était un écroulement. Elle ruisselait devant le Seigneur Dieu. Comment peut-on dire cela sans être fauteur de scandal ?
Je n’arrive pas à rassembler une idée globale ou une image fixe. Toujours mouvante, elle était toujours mouvante, émouvante, éprouvante, épouvante, Mor.


Cette nuit cauchemar, cauchemère, j’en ai honte. Je crois qu’elle est tombée par terre dans l’entrée de damier noir et blanc froide et humide de l’enfance. Elle portait une longue robe bleu-gris sombre qui collait à son corps. Elle était allongée, elle se sentait faible. Je suis venu pour l’aider. Elle n’a pas appelé. Elle était allongée sur le sol, ses yeux étaient fermés et le teint blafard. Je sentais son cœur qui battait la chamade. C’est la fin pensai-je avec émotion.
De fait, elle est morte du cœur, d’une faiblesse du cœur et non du cancer qui rongeait ses entrailles. Voilà, cela arrive enfin. Presque soulagé parce que j’ai attendu ce moment précis toute ma vie. Je les considérais, elle et le vieux panard mon père comme immortels, éternels, alors c’était cela, ils pouvaient bien mourir, eux aussi. On y était arrivé. Le grand passage de Mor.

Elle est morte d’une attaque cardiaque. Elle avait pris beaucoup de médicaments. Son corps était en train de pourrir. Il a été décidé de ne pas lui inoculer des produits stabilisateurs qui empêchent qu’elle ne pourrisse de l’intérieur.
Mauvaise décision

Translator’s note: In Danish, 'Mor'means Mother. The original version of this poem was written in French, Danish and English. French and English were common to mother and son but Danish was his alone.


It feels weird, this lack of lightness. Houses, furniture, carpets, bad books, a sort of indelicacy of taste. How can one survive in such a hopeless kind of environment?
Profusion, that’s the word in French. Excess. There was something excessive about Mor that I feared greatly. It was dangerous for me to have a relationship with her. Even my love for her was unseemly. She spoke very quickly and a lot. A deluge of words was delivered and I walked as far away as possible from Mor’s continual stream of sentences. She was the master of Truth. She prayed and her prayers tumbled down. She gushed in front of the Lord God. How can one say that without stirring up a scandal?

I can’t put together an overall idea or a fixed image. Always moving, she was always moving, emotional, difficult, frightening Mor.


That nightmare of a night, nightmother, I’m ashamed of it. I think she fell over on the cold and damp black and white checked porch of our childhood. She was wearing a sombre long blue-grey dress that clung to her body. She was stretched out, she felt weak. I came to help her. She didn’t call out. She was lying on the floor, her eyes closed and her complexion pale. I felt her heart beating wildly. This is the end, I thought emotionally.
In fact, she died of a heart disease, a weakness of the heart, and not of the cancer that gnawed at her entrails. There it was, happening at last. I am almost relieved because I’ve waited all my life for this precise moment. I always considered them, her and that old dog my father, everlasting, then this was it, they too could die. It had happened. Mor’s great passing.

She died of a heart attack. She took a lot of medicines. Her body was rotting away. It had been decided not to inject her with any stabilising drugs to stop the deterioration of her insides.
Bad decision.


Formerly a music educator and writer, Elaine Lewis created the Australian Bookshop in Paris in 1996. She met poet Jacques Rancourt and began translating for the Franco-anglais Poetry Festival. Her book Left Bank Waltz was published by Random House Australia in 2006. She is currently co-editor  and book review editor of The French Australian Review, the journal of the Institute for the Study of French Australian Relations and is a committee member of AALITRA (Australian Association for Literary Translation). She has translated poetry from Guadeloupe, Haiti, Switzerland, Canada, La Réunion, Belgium and France, published in La Traductière and Etchings (Ilura Press).


Isabelle Li translates Zheng Xiaoqiong

Zheng Xiaoqiong (郑小琼) was born in 1980 in Nanchong, Sichuan. In 2001 she left home to work in Dongguan, Guangdong, and began writing poetry. Her poems and essays have appeared in various literary journals, including Poetry (《诗刊》), Flower City (《花城》), and People’s Literature (《人民文学》). She has published over ten collections of poetry, including Women Workers, Jute Hill, Zheng Xiaoqiong Selected Poems, Thoroughbred Plant, Rose Manor. Her work has won numerous awards and been translated into many languages, including German, English, French, Korean, Japanese, Spanish, and Turkish.




Rainwater Illusions

The dusky locomotive sobbing drips and drops, among the murky mountains veiled beyond the smog. Passing by the lights on the Beijing-Guangzhou Track, by the villages of slang borne to crops, it reaches the end of the line first.
Splashing millions of shivering migrant workers, hitting their heads, the raindrops refuse to stop.
Trees, villages, retreating mountain slopes, slow toiling labourers. Outside the glass of illusions, weeps a weary, polluted river.
Night penetrates the carriage from the front. Between the tracks in the black rain darkness swells.
I look at the passengers sitting opposite, in their homecoming sartorial splendour, miserable, exhausted, dripping resinous sweat, drop by drop, clear and bitter, rain-washed.
Through the windows, mountains and rivers whistle past, through the stamping marks of rain, heading north.
Bureaucrats are carving up land as collateral for concrete, steel, chemicals, and capital. Trees with broken limbs and hills half hewn are the last ransom. Behind them, a crowd of commoners are raining tears.

Watching the train. Watching rainwater.
Watching the weeping river.
Watching the motley carriage. Hearing the train’s fierce shriek.

In this world, people are mortgaging everything like gamblers.
I’ve pledged my itinerary to the trainline, my painful life to illusory aspirations.
Inside the dictionary is a periodic table from Xia Dynasty to the Republic of China. Across Han, over Tang, onto Song, then Qing, my trip reaches Hunan, into Guizhou … Will the slow train ever arrive at its destination? Rain falling, villages retreating. Time past is buried in the journey of this train, never to be seen again.



Reaching Chu

Mountain Ghost hides under the concrete floor, among chemicals and pesticides for crops, in the city left behind by warriors once clad in leopard skin, though the bones of the last leopard are long gone. Rivers retreat, and the calamus, and the wormwood. A lotus blooms inside time.
The sun, moon, and stars; the wind, rain, thunder and lightning; the four seasons, the seas of clouds and the infinite skies – all become an arrow. It flies across swamps and wells, meadows and houses, doomed birds, beasts, bugs, fishes, flowers, trees, and vines, aiming for a relatively peaceful destiny.
Goddess of stove and chicken coop, you give birth to the demons and spirits, and the Bodhisattvas and dead souls in folk song and dance.
A sullen bird flies deep into the lake. It comes from the past, with the face of a beast.
It drifts along the Beijing-Guangzhou Track, out of Chuan, into Chu. Bearing an original instinct, it returns to the phoenix form.
The Old World is too distant now, a few reincarnations removed. All that remain are indistinct memories, like the beastly and humanly patterns amid the branches of a chinaberry.

Reaching Chu, she has restored the gaze of her former life.
A sorceress or a witch, in the voodoo vapour, memories of her turned into mountains, rivers, colloquial vernacular. Candles burn up her vertebrae.
Ancient recollections fly from the sky, over the dry sandbanks of Dongting Lake.
Sprinkled with white time, a legend, three tons heavy, slides into water.
A bird, gliding.

Her white wings soar into Chu, into its firmament, its cosmos, sweeping over traces of sorcerous souls in the surf of light.
Everything is breathing, conceiving, burgeoning, birthing.
Reaching Chu, her dark memories reconnect with history, recovering the untouched spells and folk lingo.
Hiding in the mortal world, she’s shrouded her wings over a thousand lives and veiled her beastly face. Remnants of her memories linger in recurring dreams.
Ten thousand mountains sink into the night. Snow is the only noise, whitening the dark.




Oak on the hill rears into a beast. Dripping droplets knock down chinaberry’s fruit.
Beech’s former life was a bright moon. Catalpa dreams of King Chu and floating clouds. Camphor laurel frees itself from a dream and comes to the courtyard. Hawthorn, left behind, lights a lamp on the side road, illuminating hometown and riddles. Autumn falls to the ground and grows into bellflowers. Summer’s chestnut forest partitions between past and future. Elm’s knot is the solid here and now. Thorn-elm casts its longing into the distance.
Arrowroot has endured your sorrow. Last year was just the other side of camphor laurel.
Black locust blooms. Pine mourns someone. The relationship between them seems a dream of mine.
Rain descends beneath the grape trellis. White poplar stands between gleaming train tracks. I dream of Master Zhuang and butterfly.
Must call on the Duke of Zhou, the God of Dreams, to interpret for me: last night I used walnut wood to ward off a surging sea.

Such is a worldly life, from nothing to something, from mortal to mortal. The last magpies slowly gather on pear tree, shiny, chirping, like those innocent days, staying briefly before flying off, leaving a tree of white blossoms, which then fade.
Mao bamboos have endless sentimentality. Their grief turns the nights and days green. Fir forest by the road, established and settled, is waiting for something. The stars and the moon drift like yellow leaves, like a river in a mirror, looking for its way back to the sea.
I wait for a parasol tree. While the bustling has dispersed, I remain, formerly a lonely phoenix.
Hornbeam, unmoving between memories, its face everchanging.

Cypress stands at a grave. From stone verandas to winding paths, dense gingko trees transport October’s light and shadow. Their silver flowers bloom thirteen lives’ solitude. I was a tree for twelve lives before becoming this traveller. I was silent for twelve rounds, and amassed too many words.
O, trees silent like me, have seen through life’s vicissitudes. They are my former or future selves,
If I could stand like them, between here and there,
Peacefully passing each moment.





Old Manor

Under white moonlight, three ice laurels flower in the courtyard. Upon the bluestone slate, Tang Dynasty roofs drip onto Song carved dragons.
Giant stars illuminate Ming rivulets. The everlasting flora flourish and fade like history in red dust. A shabby scholar is reading Qing octopartite essays.
Fish jump, birds sing, flowers bloom, tiger roams the village hills.
Some discuss the past in the Jiaqing Era, and recount Emperor Qianlong’s three visits down the South Bank. Some sit under the pagoda tree in the courtyard, speaking of the harvest and the ghosts and spirits of karma. Time, laden with sadness, condenses into dewdrops on the celosia at dawn, and at night shuffles among the agonised constellations.
Men smoke tobacco and plant crops and vegetables. Peach flowers open bright. Shaved hair falls at ordination.
Women are spinning yarn, weaving satin splendid. Partridges cry mournfully, and the thousand miles of fallen red remain silent.

He rode a donkey, arrived at the capital, read Four Books Five Classics and Chu Songs, studied dynasties, emperors, kings and their courts. Life in the scriptures began to shrink, thin as the donkey’s rib, thin as the gusty wind on the ancient trade road through the fir forest.
Riding the Yellow River and the Long River, riding autumn wind and setting sun, riding trees of dry branches and sorrow.
He rode a shallow strait, a life of capricious easterly wind.
On the theatre stage, people simulate joy and love, good and evil.

It’s collapsed, down in the cold of the snow.
I sit on the forlorn path, watching sunset in dejection, watching time rolling by.
The pagoda tree is still lush. The red toon still blooms. The swallows return to nest on the old beam.
Isabelle Li is a Chinese Australian writer and translator. She has published in various anthologies and literary journals, including The Best Australian Stories, Southerly, and World Literature in China. Her collection of short stories, A Chinese Affair, was published by Margaret River Press in 2016.

Debbie Lim translates Luo Lingyuan

Luo Lingyuan was born in 1963 and is a German-Chinese writer. After studying Journalism and Computer Science in Shanghai, she has lived in Berlin since 1990 and published works in German and Chinese including four novels, two short story collections and numerous pieces in literary journals. In 2007 her short story collection Du Fliegst für Meinen Sohn aus dem Fünften Stock [You Fly for My Son from the Fifth Floor] received an Adelbert-von-Chamisso  Advancement Award, a prize awarded to works written in German, dealing with ‘cultural change‘. In 2017 she was Writer in Residence in Erfurt.
Photograph: Dirk Skiba
The following is an extract from a short story titled ‘Der Zunge, auf der schwarzes Haar wuchert’. It was originally published in a collection of stories by Luo Lingyuan titled Nachtschwimmen im Rhein (or Nightswimming in the Rhein, Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 2008). The stories in the collection all centre around  relationships between Chinese women and German men. In the extract, the protagonist He Xue attends a Walpurgisnacht party for the first time with her German flatmate.

The tongue
which grew black hair

But Regina didn’t forget her. Shortly after eight, she knocks on the door and two hours later they’re in Charlottenburg in a private apartment. The place is huge, if somewhat run-down. At least fifty strangely dressed women have already arrived. Only a few of them are attractive, He Xue thinks. It’s true there are no old hags with hooked noses and evil looks. And few black capes, pointy hats and broomsticks. But He Xue doesn’t find the sexy costumes of these modern witches so appealing either. Many of the women have made up their faces to weird effect: one half colourful, the other with a snake depicted on it. Some are virtually naked, wearing garish masks, lurid wigs and skimpy outfits. One woman has painted eyes onto her breasts, which stare fixedly out.

As soon as a new arrival enters, a glass of sparkling wine is pressed into her hand. He Xue downs hers straight away out of pure self-consciousness and remains standing uncertainly in the foyer. She can’t help thinking about what the Professor has said – that she probably won’t enjoy this kind of a party. She allows her glass to be refilled anyway. In truth, she doesn’t feel like dressing up in costume at all. But she’s helpless against Regina’s insistence and in the end slips on a baggy dark-blue dress, which cloaks her body entirely. The women start dancing the tango en masse. Since dancing isn’t He Xue’s forté, she heaps up a plate with food, finds herself a quiet corner and watches the women. Each time she spots a glimpse of Regina’s blond hair in the crowd, she feels a deep admiration. She is, thinks He Xue, the most stunning woman at the party.

Two women are standing next to her wearing magnificent headdresses. They’ve already had a few drinks. He Xue hears one of them say: ‘Our boss is such a dirty dog. Now he’s getting it on with the cleaning woman. His assistant caught him. Ha! Apparently his thingy looked like a carrot.’

‘If I’d seen him, I’d have made him sweat a little,’ says the other. ‘Surely a pay rise could have come out of it. See the blonde with the eyebrow ring? Hot isn’t she? That’s Regina. I heard she just hooked up with a dentist. If he marries her, she’s set up for life. If …’ The two of them laugh, a strange bleating sound, then head into another room in search of a mirror.

Perplexed, He Xue searches for a trace of her friend. She knows Regina’s boyfriends are always changing. But she’d never mentioned the current one was a dentist. The women have begun Turkish belly dancing. Once more, it’s Regina who’s the star on the dance floor. Arms raised, she writhes like a snake, laughing blithely. Now she has on a tight sky-blue top and long skirt; around her hips is a belt made of tiny gold coins linked together, so that she gives off a bewitching tinkling with every shake of her body. To He Xue, her friend has a regal beauty. She follows her every movement.

Sometime before midnight, the women take up the unlit wooden torches, leave the apartment and head to the nearby Teufelsberg, singing the whole way. The Teufelsberg  isn’t very high and nobody’s ever met any spirits there. Actually, it’s not much more than a large mound rising on the western outskirts of the city comprised of rubble from the second World War. But the Berliners, always liking to sets their sights high, come here frequently to go strolling and look out over the vast sea of grey houses.

After climbing for some time through the dark woodland, they finally reach the top. It’s just before midnight and on the flat summit countless other women are already waiting, most of them in similar costumes. From every other direction, crowds disguised as witches are making their way up. More than two, three hundred women, young and middle-aged, have gathered under the bleak sky.

For some moments, He Xue gazes about her. When she turns back, Regina has vanished. She searches nearby but her friend is nowhere to be found. Everyone is jostling towards the centre for some reason unknown to He Xue, so she backs out to the edge.

Precisely at midnight, one woman begins to wail. Then all the women on the mountain start shrieking war cries at the tops of their voices. He Xue retreats further. Suddenly the flames from a bonfire in the middle of the clearing surge up into the sky. The women raise their torches and stamp in a circle, hooting and jeering. The summit, just a moment ago still dark, lights up with blazing sparks and glows over the city. Now the Teufelsberg is a mountain of fire. The women whoop, their voices shrill, encircling a group that’s laughing deliriously. It’s as if each has turned into a primeval creature, has waited the whole year for this mad event. As if on this night a year of compulsory service as normal respectable humans is finally over.

Now everyone has begun to dance in a frenzy. Dresses lift and drop in the firelight, long hair whips and swirls around the fantastic faces of the women. The scene is reminiscent of numberless female demons summoning up a catastrophe. He Xue desperately wishes she had a friend by her side, most of all another woman who was Chinese, with whom she could talk with. Maybe then she wouldn’t be shivering as though she had a bout of malaria.

At this moment she’s discovered by a particularly high-spirited group of revelers. One pushes a burning torch into her hand, another pulls her along and then they encircle her, shrieking the entire time in their eerie voices. They drag her into the centre then lead her closer to the fire. The torch falls from He Xue’s hand and she feels her neck stiffen and grow numb. Only when the women grab her arms and legs and yank her behind the wall of fire, do her eyes start flickering again. Now she sees that the women have stuck the torches into the ground so they form two close rows like a tunnel.  

‘A trial by fire for our little Chinese witch!’ someone yells and gives He Xue a bawdy slap on the behind. ‘Run quick through the path of fire and you’ll become pure like us.’ Someone adds: ‘Then you’ll get the witch badge with the green broom.’     He Xue searches for an escape route.

‘Run! Run! We’ll catch you!’ The women at the other end spur her on.

The torches are burning at chest-height. He Xue crouches down and waddles off like a duck. She can’t remember ever having run like this. The women encircling her burst into laughter and clap. When He Xue reaches the other end, she’s surrounded and thrown into the air three times. ‘A cheer for the Chinese witch!’ they cry.

The crippling thought that only a few seconds ago her hair could have ignited into flames inhibits He Xue as she dances. She moves stiffly, like a straw doll among a galloping herd of whinnying horses that’s in danger of at any moment being ripped in two.

As a new candidate is brought over for the trial by fire, everyone rushes back over to where the torches are standing. He Xue uses the opportunity to escape to the sidelines. Two middle-aged women with fake witch noses are approaching. They head over to those dancing, their brooms hoisted. ‘We’ve had incredible luck on the stock market this year. The tech shares went through the roof,’ says one. ‘You should get into the market too.’ The other looks pensively into the flames. ‘So what did you buy? I’ve played around a lot, but …’ Then the women disappear into the mass and He Xue can’t hear them anymore.

In the centre of the dancing crowd now is a girl whose hair is whirling like a hundred delicate snakes. The hem of her dress flutters up and down, like a black pupil dilating and contracting. Out of her mouth comes the call, ‘Ura! Ura!’ He Xue feels dazed watching her dance movements. Just where does she recognise this beauty from? And now this person is dancing towards her. The girl’s eyes display a wildness and then her hand alights, sudden as a spider, on He Xue’s shoulder. It shakes her.

‘He Xue, come on, dance!’

He Xue nearly stumbles over backwards. Until she realises it’s no-one other than Regina who’s come over. But by the time He Xue tries to follow, her friend has already danced away and is nowhere to be seen.

He Xue stands in the dark and thinks she can smell singed hair. She bats at her head with both hands to put out the supposed sparks, then she feels around her hair gingerly. Indeed, she finds what appears to be a hank that has been burnt to a crisp dry cinder. For a long time after, she pulls at the strands on her head until the stench of scorched hair finally disappears.


1. Celebrated on the night of 30 April, Walpurgisnacht is the eve of the Christian feast day of Saint Walpurga, who was known to ward away witches and evil spirits. The pagan folk rites of Spring are also celebrated.

2. The name ‘Teufelsberg’ literally translates as ‘devil’s mountain’. Teufelsberg, in the Grunewald district of former West Berlin, is a hill made of rubble dumped after the second World War and covers a Nazi military-technical college that was never completed. During the Cold War, there was a U.S. listening station on the hill, Field Station Berlin.

DEBBIE LIM was born in Sydney. Her poetry chapbook Beastly Eye was published by Vagabond Press (2012) and  her poems have been widely anthologised, including regularly appearing in the Best Australian Poems series (Black Inc.). In 2016 she moved with her family to southern Germany for 2 years where she started to translate from German into English.

Yunhe Huang translates Fan Zhongyan & Li Qingzhao

Fan Zhongyan (989-1052) was a Chinese statesman, writer and philosopher of the Song dynasty. A significant portion of his career was spent working on China’s defences along the North-western border, which inspired the theme of loneliness in his writings. His best-known poems contrasted his experience of solitude and homesickness with a sense of duty to his country and people.




Li Qingzhao (1084-1151) lived during the Song dynasty and was considered one of the most accomplished woman poets in Chinese history. Many of her poems intimately reflect her experiences of love, loss, fear and uncertainty living in a war-torn China.





Fan Zhongyan (989-1052)



Nostalgia in Autumn
Fan Zhongyan



Slow Song
Li Qingzhao (1084-1151)



Yellow-leafed earth.
On the autumn-tinted river,
A green mist floats the waves.
Under a sky merging into waters,
Hills frame a glorious sunset.
The grass stretches endless
Into the sun and sky.

Home-yearning soul,
Travel-weary heart.
Dreams, my only refuge
Through these endless nights.
The moonlit balcony is not for the lonesome traveller.
When the wine reaches my sorrow-stricken heart,
It turns to tears of longing.

Blue clouded sky,
Leaves fall on paved steps.
In the tranquil night,
I hear broken whispers of the cold.
Curtains open, I linger alone on the balcony.
The Milky Way drapes low across a pale sky.
Every year on this night,
The moonlight a silk ribbon
Stretching thousands of miles.

My heart is stricken beyond a drunken cure.
Before wine reaches my lips,
It had already turned to tears.
Watching the lamp flicker as I lean on my pillow,
I have long understood the taste of sleeping alone.
It hovers between my brows and drifts across my heart,
Refusing to be pushed away.

Empty solitude,
Bleak misery,
I am restless as the warmth makes way for the cold.
A few glasses of wine,
No defence against the evening wind.
Wild geese fly past my heavy heart,
My old acquaintances.

Petals collect in my garden,
Wilted gold. Long past their prime.
Standing by the window,
I have no courage to face the black night.
Tiny raindrops fall among silent trees,
Dripping and drizzling into twilight.
Everything becomes one word:


Translator’s note

I have selected three ci poems from the Song dynasty under a common theme of coping with loneliness. The ci was traditionally a form of song, which later evolved into written poetry with a unique lyrical quality. In order to capture the musical quality of these poems, I used a more liberal approach in my translation and re-created them in a more contemporary style using the English language. My aim was to show the rhythm of language in these poems, which is often lost in traditional literal translations of classical Chinese poetry. I had chosen to de-emphasize the exotic setting of these poems in my translation in order to highlight loneliness as a human condition common across all cultures. In particular, Li’s poem reminded me of English-language confessionalist women poets, and the form and language used in the translation was intended to reflect that similarity.


Yunhe Huang is a Chinese writer based in Australia. She has written poetry and prose in both Chinese and English, using a variety of genres from Song-dynasty ci to American confessionalist poetry. Translation has been her passion since childhood, with a special interest in translating poetry from Chinese to English. Her original poems have appeared in Dubnium.

Debbie Lim translates an interview with Luo Lingyuan

Luo Lingyuan was born in 1963 and is a German-Chinese writer. After studying Journalism and Computer Science in Shanghai, she has lived in Berlin since 1990 and published works in German and Chinese including four novels, two short story collections and numerous pieces in literary journals. In 2007 her short story collection, Du Fliegst für Meinen Sohn aus dem Fünften Stock [You Fly for My Son from the Fifth Floor,] received an Adelbert-von-Chamisso  Advancement Award, a prize awarded to works written in German, dealing with ‘cultural change‘. In 2017 she was Writer in Residence in Erfurt.

The following interview was carried out in 2016 by Bai Shaojie as part of her Masters degree in German Studies at the Shanghai International Studies University (SISU). The interview was originally conducted in German and the English translation is by Debbie Lim. Thank you to Bai Shaojie , Luo Lingyuan and SISU for permission to publish the interview in Mascara.
Bai: Why did you move to Germany? What led to your decision?

Luo: I have to say it was actually only by coincidence. During my studies at Fudan University I met a German man who was doing a degree in Chinese studies. That changed my life. We were in love and decided to get married after my studies. And so I learnt German, for the sake of love. Actually I was more interested in French literature and had even studied French for half a year. But then then we moved to Germany. When I arrived in Berlin, I could speak only very little German. My husband spoke fluent Chinese and in China we’d only spoken Chinese with each other. After we got married, I wanted to find to work in Berlin but it was very difficult because I hardly spoke German. I worked as a room maid in a hotel and a saleswoman in a department store. At the same time I learnt German. After some time, it became good enough to be able to work as a travel guide.

Bai: When did you begin writing?

Luo: I began writing regularly in German in 2002. The Literarische Kolloquium Berlin became aware of me and supported my work. Before that, I’d published a few articles in China. At first I only wrote short articles and pieces of prose but soon after stories and novels as well. I took a lot of detours and tried out various things until I found my dream job. My first book was published in 2005. But living as an independent writer isn’t easy. I know many German authors who live from hand to mouth and struggle in vain for grants and publishing contracts. Only a rare few can live from writing alone. I have to do all kinds of bread-and-butter jobs too in order to be able to keep writing.

Bai: Why did you choose this career?

Luo: I‘ve enjoyed reading since I was little. I‘ve always admired the famous works of Chinese literature and secretly always wanted to write myself. Even though I studied Computer Sciences at Jiaotong University, I never had much interest in it. I continued because it was ‘sensible‘. After I graduated, I was given a position as lecturer in Computing, which I did for two years. Then I decided to study journalism because I was looking for a bread-and-butter job that could combine with literary writing. I already knew back then that as a writer you always lived on the border of poverty. But it was during this degree that I met my first husband, which completely changed my plans. I learnt a new language and only after 11 years I became a journalist and was able to write articles in German as well as in Chinese.

Bai: Many migrant writers write in Chinese. Why do you write in German?

Luo: Well, Gao Xingjian writes in French, and Ha Jin and many other Chinese authors write in English. Whoever writes in the language of their host country can communicate an image of their home land much more directly. I’ve also read a lot of books in Germany about China. But each time I‘ve felt that the way things were depicted was somehow odd. The China that I knew was different from the China in these books. So I came upon the idea to tell the German people about my country, in their language. I hope that Germans can get to know China and its people better this way.

Bai: How did you choose the subjects for your books?

Luo: That’s difficult to say. I write what I enjoy writing. When I find myself  thinking about something repeatedly, when my thoughts keep returning to some person, some story or even some city then I feel that maybe I should write about it. But my subjects often come from my surroundings. People ask me questions about the people in China and I try to give an answer through my books.

Bai: I’ve noticed that you’ve written a lot about China, but not Germany. Why?

Luo: When I came here [to Germany] I was already 26. I spent my childhood and youth in China, and the Chinese culture and my family have  influenced me deeply. For a story, you need people – they’re the starting point of every narrative. And for me, it’s easier to understand and create a Chinese person. But it’s only a question of time. Maybe soon I’ll write more about Germany.

Bai: How do you manage the relationship between reality and imagination during the writing process?

Luo: The starting point is always reality and often even a concrete incident. But I look at reality quite critically. I attempt to figure out the core of the characters, based on what they think, say and do. It’s only during this phase that the imaginative power sets in. I ask myself questions: Why did this person do this? What would he or she do in other circumstances?

Bai: You’ve referred to the city of Ningbo in many works. Do you have a particular connection to the city?

Luo: No, Ningbo is a symbol for the rapid economic development in China. The city is much more interested than other cities in colloborating and exchange with foreign countries, but it’s not as well-known overseas as, say, Shanghai. I myself led at least two delegations from Ningbo on tour through Europe and met people from the city. Most Germans know of Shanghai in particular. The city has become almost a cliché and many Germans think that, apart from a few skyscrapers in Pudong, China doesn’t have much to offer. I lived for seven years in Shanghai and was very happy there but I’d like to show my readers that there are other cities in China too. If I ever write about Shanghai, it will be something special.

Bai: You’ve lived in Germany for 26 years. What are your views now towards China and Germany?

Luo: I’m still Chinese inside. That will probably never change. The richness of the Chinese culture with its vibrant traditions and deep thought, its music and reknown literary role models, still has a major influence on me. It’s such a powerful influence and can’t just be cast off. I don’t want to separate myself from it either. On the other hand, I’ve also adopted a lot from the German people, for example, conscientiousness. When I began writing, my husband once asked me how I could have made the same mistake three times. It unsettled me and I realised I hadn’t been very thorough or placed much value on precision. After that it was clear to me that I had to be more meticulous. The Germans are are very conscientious and strive for perfection in everything that they do.

Bai: Which experiences after all these years have remained particularly in your memory? What would be your suggestions for fellow countrymen who plan to come to Germany?

Luo: Above all, I’d recommend learning German. If you don’t speak it, it’s very difficult to interact with the people. The cultural contrast between the two countries is so great. Even finding a common topic isn’t simple because the majority of Germans have never been to China and know little about it. On the other hand, I notice that there’s great interest in China. Anyone who has ever seen China is fascinated.

Bai: When a Chinese person lives in Germany, they normally have problems with the language. But why haven’t the language difficulties of your characters been a topic that you address?

Bai: That never really interested me so much. The characters should have their own personalities. I’d like to depict their inner world rather than show every stammer. When the situation presents itself, I have in fact alluded to the language issues. For example, the misunderstandings that arise between Robert and the bathroom attendant in Guangzhou in the novel ‘Wie Eine Chinesin Schwanger Wird‘ [How a Chinese Woman Becomes Pregnant].

Bai: For me, your works can be considered women‘s literature as well as migrant literature. Women play an important part in your works. What’s your opinion?

Luo: It’s true. That has to do with myself. I’m a woman and can understand women better. I feel more confident depicting a woman. What’s more, I find women magnificent. Even where a man seems to be take centre stage, such as in ‘Die Sterne von Shenzhen‘ [Stars from Shenzen], it’s the very different women around him who determine what happens.

Bai: I’ve noticed that many of the love stories between German men and Chinese women in your works end tragically. Is that true?

Luo: It’s not easy for Chinese women being with  German men. They are expected to be both „exotic“ and „normal“ at the same time, wonderful lovers and perfect mothers, intelligent parters, pretty companions, thrifty housewives etc. There is   a lot demanded of them. But mostly they cope well and there’s a happy ending after all.

Bai: Many stories are open-ended. Was it your intention to say that one should accept fate and there’s nothing you can do about it?

Luo: Each book has its own style. But it’s true that I prefer an open ending. Life goes on, even after a novel ends, and as long as life continues, there’s also hope. It’s exactly the same as in reality. Perhaps it‘s possible to find a ‘dream man‘. But when we don’t find him, there are other possibilities. You have to fight for a better life.




Aquiles Nazoa translated by Ariel Riveros Pavez

nazoaAquiles Nazoa (born in Caracas 17 May 1920 – 26 April 1976) was a Venezuelan writer, journalist, poet and satirist. His work expressed the values of popular Venezuelan culture though in 1940 he was arrested for defamation and criticism of the municipal government. In 1948, Nazoa obtained the Premio Nacional de Periodismo (National Journalism Prize) in the humour and customs section. He was also awarded the Premio Municipal de Literatura del Distrito Federal (Municipal Prize for Literature of the Federal District) in 1967. He wrote for the Colombian magazine, Sábado and lived in CubaHe was expelled by the Jiménez regime in 1956 for two years. His poems have been reproduced as lyrics by musical artists throughout Latin America from the 1970s to this day.


Rezo el Credo o Credo de Aquiles Nazóa

Creo en Pablo Picasso,Todopoderoso, Creador del Cielo y de la Tierra;
creo en Charlie Chaplin, hijo de las violetas y de los ratones,
que fué crucificado, muerto y sepultado por el tiempo
pero que cada día resucita en el corazón de los hombres,
creo en el amor y en el arte como vías hacia el disfrute de la vida perdurable,
creo en el amolador que vive de fabricar estrellas de oro con su rueda maravillosa,
creo en la cualidad aérea del ser humano,
configurada en el recuerdo de Isadora Duncan abatíendose
como una purísima paloma herida bajo el cielo del mediterráneo;
creo en las monedas de chocolate que atesoro secretamente
debajo de la almohada de mi niñez;
creo en la fábula de Orfeo, creo en el sortilegio de la música,
yo que en las horas de mi angustia ví al conjuro de la Pavana de Fauré,
salir liberada y radiante de la dulce Eurídice del infierno de mi alma,
creo en Rainer María Rilken héroe de la lucha del hombre por la belleza,
que sacrificó su vida por el acto de cortar una rosa para una mujer,
creo en las flores que brotaron del cadaver adolescente de Ofelia,
creo en el llanto silencioso de Aquiles frente al mar;
creo en un barco esbelto y distantísimo
que salió hace un siglo al encuentro de la aurora;
su capitán Lord Byron, al cinto la espada de los arcángeles,
junto a sus cienes un resplandor de estrellas,
creo en el perro de Ulises,
en el gato risueño de Alicia en el país de las maravillas,
en el loro de Robinson Crusoe,
creo en los ratoncitos que tiraron del coche de la Cenicienta,
el beralfiro el caballo de Rolando,
y en las abejas que laboran en su colmena dentro del corazón de Martín Tinajero,
creo en la amistad como el invento más bello del hombre,
creo en los poderes creadores del pueblo,
creo en la poesía y en fín,
creo en mí mismo, puesto que sé que alguien me ama...

El Mayordomo y El Gato

Recientemente falleció en Montana
una viejecita norteamericana
que, en calidad de único heredero
le dejó a un mayordomo su dinero.

Mas la anciana del caso que relato
dejó también un gato
que ha venido a plantearle al mayordomo
un problema, lector, de tomo y lomo,
ya que en el testamento hay un mandato
que le impide aunque llegue a la indigencia,
disponer ni una puya de la herencia
hasta que no se muera dicho gato.

Me diréis: - ¿Y por qué ese mayordomo
no se arma de una estaca o de un zapato
y acaba de una vez con ese gato
que debe de caerle como un plomo?

Ah, porque la viejecita, en previsión
de que ocurrir pudiera cosa tal
aclaró al imponer su condición
que del gato en cuestión la defunción
debe ser natural,
y si no muere así, tampoco hay real.

Lo que le queda, pues, al mayordomo
ante este caso, es conservar su aplomo,
con paciencia llevar su dura cruz
y esperar que se muera el micifuz.
y como el gato tiene siete vidas,
¡esas puyas, lector, están perdidas!

The Credo according to Aquiles Nazoa

I believe in Pablo Picasso, Almighty, Creator of Skies and Earth;
I believe in Charlie Chaplin, son of rats and violets,
who was crucified, dead and buried by the time
but who is resurrected daily in the hearts of men,
I believe in love and in art as the path to enjoy everlasting life
I believe in the miller who lives off making golden stars on his marvelous millstone
I believe in the aerial qualities of human beings
set in the memory of a swooping Isadora Duncan
like the purest dove wounded under Mediterranean skies
I believe in the chocolate gold coins I secretly stowed
under childhood pillows;
I believe in the myth of Orpheus and the magic of music
When, in the hours of my anguish I saw Faure’s Pavane evoked
walk free radiantly from sweet Eurydice in the hell of my soul
I believe in Rainier Maria Rilke, hero of our struggle for beauty,
who sacrificed his life by plucking a rose for a woman,
I believed in the blossoming flowers of Ophelia’s adolescent corpse,
I believe in the silent lament of Achilles facing the sea,
I believe in a sleek and distant ship
that embarked a century ago in search of the aurora;
whose captain, Lord Byron, by the scabbard of archangels,
a blaze of stars on his brow,
I believe in Ulysses’ dog,
I believe in Alice’s Cheshire Cat in Wonderland,
in Robinson Crusoe’s parrot,
I believe in Cinderella's ratty coachmen,
Veillantif, Roland’s steed,
and in the worker bees in their hive within the heart of Martin Tinajero,
I believe in friendship - mankind's most beautiful invention,
I believe in the creative power of the people,
I believe in poetry and to end,
I believe in myself, since I know someone loves me…

The Butler and The Cat

An old American lady
passed away recently
in Montana
and made the butler
her sole inheritor

Furthermore, the old woman
in this case also left a cat
that caused contention
my learned friend, of books and spines,
because there was a clause in the will
that put pause to any pay
even on pains of penury
‘til said cat died

And may well you ask:
why wouldn’t the butler
take hold of a stake or shoe
and finish off said cat
which must be gnawing at him by now?

Oh, it’s because the grand old dame foresaw
that such a thing could happen
and clearly imposed this condition
that the cat in question
should die of natural cause
and if this did not occur,
there would be no recourse

So what’s left in this case
is that the butler should
keep calm and composed
bare his heavy cross
and wait for the furball to croak
but as a cat has nine lives
my learned friend, to all those bucks
you might as well say goodbye.


Ariel Riveros Pavez is a Sydney-based creative writer, publisher and poetry translator. He also writes on experience-dependant Neuroplasticity. Ariel was convener of The Blue Space! Poetry Jam and is founding editor of Australian Latino Press. His work has appeared in various publications including Arena Magazine, Journal of Postcolonial Text, Southerly and Verity La.