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Poem

Yu Jian

Stone from Kata Tjuta

here I am in a valley in Kata Tjuta

a famous Australian tourist destination

and standing alone in this nation’s stone fortresses:

countless stones     scattered everywhere

ochre-red earth aborigines     like eggs laid by God knows what

tiny birds hidden inside     to be hatched out one day

I’m imagining what kind of bird that might be     I play around with

one of them     right up until sunset’s footsteps walk up to me

and I have to decide     to take it with me or not     there’s something so cute about it

rolling it to one side     it suddenly becomes clear to me     that it looks even more

like its red-skinned neighbours     sculpted heads scorched by the sun

arranged on a book-shelf, wouldn’t that be best?     this stone

lives over 6000 kilometres from where I live     it would be one of a kind in China     I decide

furtively skirting the warning signs     stone hidden in my back-pack

back at the hotel     I find I cannot sleep     as if what I have brought back with me

is a ball of wild-fire     its body unsuited to the shampoo smell of my room

in the middle of the night it broke through its shell     I danced with a fever in my arms

tossing backwards and forwards     I was thinking to myself     how I could get it past Customs?

it was just a stone     so why did I want to take it with me?     why?

it wasn’t     gems     lanolin beauty creme     postage stamps     no

a stone     I just couldn’t work it out     was it because it looked like the local indigenous people

because it might have hatched out wings?     could it perhaps

transform some McDonalds fat man in Customs     momentarily

into a detective with a penchant for solving mysteries?     unshakeably seeking out

the motive behind it?     and connecting me with less savoury aspects of this world

for example     with an out-of-date slave trader?

I really liked this stone     primitive divine force     how it moved me

everywhere you turn the world is artificial     long ago     I become numb     insensitive

at the same time I was terrified     that this slight act of theft may have offended

some King of the Rock     among the stone heaps of Kata Tjuta

I couldn’t shake the feeling of His power     He was no manager of scenic spots

He collected no entrance tickets     silent     concealed     but supreme ruler over all

sometimes     an curly-headed aborigine with shining eyes

would smile at me, surreptitiously     squatting down in the bush     another time

I was startled by the sight of a scarred, motley lizard     crawling down a tree-root

looking like an aged sovereign walking his royal carpet     I was so scared I broke out in a cold sweat

in Australia     like an emu     I slept a night with a stone in my embrace

it made me suspicious of my own shadow     I trembled with fear

I went and put it outside the hotel     in a wasteland    that is

another wasteland     I had moved one small object on the surface of this planet

18 kilometres     towards the south-west     and in doing so

had sneakily altered     the order of the world

but I hope my mischief     brings me no misfortune



2002

STONE FROM KATA TJUTA

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Stone from Kata Tjuta

here I am in a valley in Kata Tjuta

a famous Australian tourist destination

and standing alone in this nation’s stone fortresses:

countless stones     scattered everywhere

ochre-red earth aborigines     like eggs laid by God knows what

tiny birds hidden inside     to be hatched out one day

I’m imagining what kind of bird that might be     I play around with

one of them     right up until sunset’s footsteps walk up to me

and I have to decide     to take it with me or not     there’s something so cute about it

rolling it to one side     it suddenly becomes clear to me     that it looks even more

like its red-skinned neighbours     sculpted heads scorched by the sun

arranged on a book-shelf, wouldn’t that be best?     this stone

lives over 6000 kilometres from where I live     it would be one of a kind in China     I decide

furtively skirting the warning signs     stone hidden in my back-pack

back at the hotel     I find I cannot sleep     as if what I have brought back with me

is a ball of wild-fire     its body unsuited to the shampoo smell of my room

in the middle of the night it broke through its shell     I danced with a fever in my arms

tossing backwards and forwards     I was thinking to myself     how I could get it past Customs?

it was just a stone     so why did I want to take it with me?     why?

it wasn’t     gems     lanolin beauty creme     postage stamps     no

a stone     I just couldn’t work it out     was it because it looked like the local indigenous people

because it might have hatched out wings?     could it perhaps

transform some McDonalds fat man in Customs     momentarily

into a detective with a penchant for solving mysteries?     unshakeably seeking out

the motive behind it?     and connecting me with less savoury aspects of this world

for example     with an out-of-date slave trader?

I really liked this stone     primitive divine force     how it moved me

everywhere you turn the world is artificial     long ago     I become numb     insensitive

at the same time I was terrified     that this slight act of theft may have offended

some King of the Rock     among the stone heaps of Kata Tjuta

I couldn’t shake the feeling of His power     He was no manager of scenic spots

He collected no entrance tickets     silent     concealed     but supreme ruler over all

sometimes     an curly-headed aborigine with shining eyes

would smile at me, surreptitiously     squatting down in the bush     another time

I was startled by the sight of a scarred, motley lizard     crawling down a tree-root

looking like an aged sovereign walking his royal carpet     I was so scared I broke out in a cold sweat

in Australia     like an emu     I slept a night with a stone in my embrace

it made me suspicious of my own shadow     I trembled with fear

I went and put it outside the hotel     in a wasteland    that is

another wasteland     I had moved one small object on the surface of this planet

18 kilometres     towards the south-west     and in doing so

had sneakily altered     the order of the world

but I hope my mischief     brings me no misfortune



2002

Stone from Kata Tjuta

here I am in a valley in Kata Tjuta

a famous Australian tourist destination

and standing alone in this nation’s stone fortresses:

countless stones     scattered everywhere

ochre-red earth aborigines     like eggs laid by God knows what

tiny birds hidden inside     to be hatched out one day

I’m imagining what kind of bird that might be     I play around with

one of them     right up until sunset’s footsteps walk up to me

and I have to decide     to take it with me or not     there’s something so cute about it

rolling it to one side     it suddenly becomes clear to me     that it looks even more

like its red-skinned neighbours     sculpted heads scorched by the sun

arranged on a book-shelf, wouldn’t that be best?     this stone

lives over 6000 kilometres from where I live     it would be one of a kind in China     I decide

furtively skirting the warning signs     stone hidden in my back-pack

back at the hotel     I find I cannot sleep     as if what I have brought back with me

is a ball of wild-fire     its body unsuited to the shampoo smell of my room

in the middle of the night it broke through its shell     I danced with a fever in my arms

tossing backwards and forwards     I was thinking to myself     how I could get it past Customs?

it was just a stone     so why did I want to take it with me?     why?

it wasn’t     gems     lanolin beauty creme     postage stamps     no

a stone     I just couldn’t work it out     was it because it looked like the local indigenous people

because it might have hatched out wings?     could it perhaps

transform some McDonalds fat man in Customs     momentarily

into a detective with a penchant for solving mysteries?     unshakeably seeking out

the motive behind it?     and connecting me with less savoury aspects of this world

for example     with an out-of-date slave trader?

I really liked this stone     primitive divine force     how it moved me

everywhere you turn the world is artificial     long ago     I become numb     insensitive

at the same time I was terrified     that this slight act of theft may have offended

some King of the Rock     among the stone heaps of Kata Tjuta

I couldn’t shake the feeling of His power     He was no manager of scenic spots

He collected no entrance tickets     silent     concealed     but supreme ruler over all

sometimes     an curly-headed aborigine with shining eyes

would smile at me, surreptitiously     squatting down in the bush     another time

I was startled by the sight of a scarred, motley lizard     crawling down a tree-root

looking like an aged sovereign walking his royal carpet     I was so scared I broke out in a cold sweat

in Australia     like an emu     I slept a night with a stone in my embrace

it made me suspicious of my own shadow     I trembled with fear

I went and put it outside the hotel     in a wasteland    that is

another wasteland     I had moved one small object on the surface of this planet

18 kilometres     towards the south-west     and in doing so

had sneakily altered     the order of the world

but I hope my mischief     brings me no misfortune



2002
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