Early risen travelers, sweepers of snow,
mothers departing sickbed-ridden lives,
mountaineers who find wisdom in the wingbeats of a moth.
The tramp leaning on a tree thinks suddenly of a guitar twanging at home.
To fell a tree in winter, someone else must pull the rope,
a singular work
to make the wood into boats, into vessels
for food, well water, crematory ash,
using the profits to bribe a callous hitman
who, however, finds himself in a hesitation like love.
A reader of poetry mistakes the poet’s meaning.
Each gropes for the world’s switch amid her own darkness.
People always bring up my birthplace，
a cold Yunannese place with camellias and pines.
It taught me Tibetan, and I forgot.
It taught me a tenor; I have not yet sung
in that register, hidden somewhere, hard as pine nuts.
There are Muntjac in the summer
and fire pits in winter.
The locals hunt, harvest honey, plant buckwheat
because it’s hardy. Pyres are familiar to me:
we don’t pry in Death’s private affairs
or those of comets striking ruts in the earth.
They taught me certain arts
so that I might never use them.
I left them
so they would not leave me first.
They said that people should love like fire
so that ashes need not burst back to life.
Reach my hand into a bag my terror has hair
reach my hand into ice water my terror is a fishbone
reach my hand into night my terror is the the entire night
what I cannot touch or can touch but cannot feel
or can feel but cannot touch
In the sixth months or so since I met Feng Na, our correspondence has touched again and again on how to resist an alluring but also vulgar tendency: to be the Chinese poet Euro-American readers want. I could, for example, have really emphasized the Tibetanness of Na, cited her book on Tibet, which spent more than a year being “processed” before it was released, but the book was a travelogue. Moreover, Na is not Tibetan but Yunnanese (her hometown is close to the border, and to Tibet), and does not speak her parents’ language, nor does she write “ethnic” poems. The treatment she receives from critics in China, many of whom describe her as the best poet—qualified by the words young and woman—writing in China today, frustrates her, and many of our conversations are not so much about a glass ceiling, which we do not dispute, but how high it is in our respective countries. I’ve assured her that things are bad and worsening in the U.S., though in different ways. Readers can look to Rifle for a sort of metaphor: the speaker does not have the civil liberty to mass murder people. Above all, though, Na is a poet of displacement, migration, and transformation. Look to her figures and see.