The Literary Shanghai Journal


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Welcome to Literary Shanghai!

  Literary Shanghai is a community of readers, writers, and translators, Chinese and English, with a local and regional focus. Our goal is to bring our literary community together through events, workshops, and our literary journal. Read more.  

January Events

Sunday January 28, 7pm

Poetry: Alice Pettway & David Perry

Event Details


Kanchan Chatterjee – three poems

Kanchan Chatterjee works in the Finance Ministry of the Government of India as a tax officer. He has been writing poems and haiku since 2012. His poems have been published in a variety of ezines. He received an honourable mention for his entry in the 2017 Eto En Oi Ocha haiku contest in Japan.



the small dead branches


a nightbird sings and air hiss . . .

distant hum

of a long distance truck . . .


diwali happened a week back, a few

crackers still burst


looking up i see

scorpio, with antares, the fire star, burning orange; vega, in the center

of the sky




desolation ku

a mouse,
a half open window

the lights of the diwali night
the ks link road, desolate

will long be remembered. . .

late-rising moon

her side of bed
empty . . .





Keshavi signs the papers
is from Colombo
return her passport . . .

she smiles back
she works
in Unilever, speaks good

says she watches lots of Bollywood
stuff, Shahrukh, yeah

she will stay here for
10 days and
pray to Buddha
you know. . .

she won’t meet me at the
Sri Lankan monastery, I should come to
Colombo (flashes her smile)

turns away, waves back

she has a deep blue
pair of Nikes

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Chris Ruffle – “Evening Ferry”

Chris Ruffle has worked in China since 1983. He has written “A Decent Bottle of Wine in China” (Earnshaw Books) and contributed to “My Thirty Years in China” and “Letters from China” (Alain Charles).


Evening Ferry

Good. The boat was at the wharf, so he wouldn’t need to wait long. He flipped the plastic entry token into a basket and hurried down the broad gangplank, coat flapping. Actually he was not in a rush. He rarely was these days; business was quiet. It’s just that he did not want the gate to slam shut right in front of his face. The muddy river slid unappetisingly beneath the gaps in the rusted steel. The surface was slippy so his manly stride became an undignified waddle. Still, better that than a pratfall before the eyes of those already aboard. Carefully minding the gap, he climbed aboard.

It was rush-hour in the middle of one of the world’s largest cities, but the crowd on the ferry was thin. A two-decade building boom had added several rival bridges and tunnels to nudge the old ferry towards obsolescence. Growing wealth had also bought a surge in car ownership – a warmer and more convenient transport alternative on this cool evening in early spring. He remembered his first ride on this ferry thirty years before. It had been packed with people pushing bicycles or motorbikes, many of them heavily-laden. Once he had seen a pig strapped to the handlebars. Now his fellow travellers seemed mostly to be local tourists. They were not the cap-wearing, flag-following tourists of yore; this too had changed. These ones, dressed in sports-leisure clothes, lined the top deck, taking pictures of each other and the East bank’s towering skyscrapers. After a few minutes, the lady in a New York Yankees cap lost interest in her surroundings, re-inserted her earphones and started flicking through her WeChat messages. Emboldened, he took his own unsteady photo.

On his first trip, he had only taken the ferry to take a picture of the famous colonial architecture along the West bank. He had stayed on the boat when it turned around – there had been nothing on the East side of the river worth getting off for. This photograph, now rather faded, was still pinned above his desk. The old 1920’s skyline that it showed was now lost, dwarfed by the work of a new generation of empire builders and their architects.

At least the ferry still smelled the same; a hint of the sea above the engine oil and an ammonia-based cleaning fluid. Also unchanged was the practised ease with which the blue-clad crew member unlooped the rope from its stanchion and cast off into the stream. The propellers suddenly churned against the tide and he pressed his hand against a cabin window to steady himself. He caught his own reflection and was startled to see how much he stood out, in his grey suit, long, frayed raincoat and dark glasses. “Daddy, look, it’s an old foreigner.” The child was quickly shushed by the father and distracted with something more interesting – a passing barge heaped with sand.

He could have taken a taxi, of course, but his office looked right across at the club where the lecture was taking place. Even considering the ferry’s leisurely pace, the taxi would not have been any quicker, having tunnel traffic to contend with. Also, after a day at his desk, staring at a computer, he fancied a walk in the almost fresh air. A heron slowly laboured overhead. The return of bird life meant that the government’s attempts to clean up the river must finally be bearing fruit. You wouldn’t want to fall in, though.

One developer had thought it was a good idea to convert the whole side of his gold-mirrored edifice into a giant LED screen. This had already been turned on, although the sun was still setting in a pinkish glow over the Bund. The 40-storey high, pixilated advertising sporadically declared “I heart SH”. As the boat passed mid-river, he could make out the old clock tower above the Customs House, which showed that it was almost VI o’clock. Plenty of time. He opened his briefcase just to double-check that he had brought the invitation. The title of this evening’s talk, to be held above the Prada showroom, was “The Death of American Capitalism”. In his guise as “hedge fund manager” he would certainly be in a position to play the devil’s advocate. It would be good for an argument.

The sound of the engines suddenly cut, as the pilot used the speed of the current to slew around and approach the landing-stage side on. There were more people waiting on this side. They pressed up against the bars of the gate impatiently, watching the passengers embark, passengers who had just come from where they wanted to go. As a ferry veteran, he knew where the door started to open, so was first off, striding towards his date with dialectics and a glass of red wine.

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Tim Tomlinson – “This is Not Happening to You”

Tim Tomlinson was born in Brooklyn, and raised on Long Island, where he was educated by jukeboxes and juvenile delinquents. He quit high school in 1971 and began a life of purposeless wandering that led to purpose. He’s lived in Boston, Miami, New Orleans, London, Florence, Shanghai, Manila, Andros Island in the Bahamas, and Cha-am, Thailand. Currently, he lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Deedle. He is a co-founder of New York Writers Workshop, and co-author of its popular text, The Portable MFA in Creative Writing. He is the author of the chapbook Yolanda: An Oral History in Verse, the poetry collection Requiem for the Tree Fort I Set on Fire, and the forthcoming collection of short fiction, This Is Not Happening to You (due late summer, 2017). He is a Professor of Writing at New York University’s Global Liberal Studies Program. He’s an avid scuba diver with just under 300 logged dives, and a 200-hr Yoga Alliance certified yoga instructor.

This is Not Happening to You


You are now in the proximity of Extra-Strength Tylenol caplets. Don’t trust your shaking hands, bend to the kitchen counter, dip to the spilled caplets like a dog to a puddle. Tongue several up, a half-dozen, never mind the recommended dosage. At this point, to consider recommended dosages would be a category mistake. Recommended dosages apply to children or adults and you, you remember head-poundingly, belong to neither category. You are a headache, an extra-strength headache, nothing more. Focus, do not multi-task, be here now.

The fridge, the half-quart of Old Milwaukee, crack it . . . and linger briefly in that reassuring skershsh, the audio anesthetic of it, the promise of its wet sizzle. Lift the can, tilt back your head, and pour the lager heavily over your tongue and onto your sawdust-dry throat. Feel the caplets pebble past the uvula, scraping the parched ringlets of the esophagus, hear them “plip” into that vast vat of Saturday night stewing in your guts on top of Friday’s vat, Thursday’s vat, the vats of your weeks and months and lifetimes in New Orleans. The Old Milwaukee chills your sternum, its crisp cold bubbles ping wetly in your skull. Slowly it stills your trembling fingers until they hang from your wrists inert as gloves. In your eyes gather pools of relief.

With relief begins perspective. Rather than unpuzzling the night, better to consider where you just were, only minutes before the Tylenol accomplishment: the dining room floor amidst overturned furniture and scattered Tylenol caplets. Many good people have been found on floors: William Holden, Lenny Bruce, Janis Joplin. Good company, all, and isn’t Sunday a day for company?

Company requires food. On the kitchen counter, an avocado, or what remains of it. How quaint: you—or someone—had taken pains to militate against hunger, a condition that would arise only in the future. Evidence that some level of maturity’s been achieved. You are not hungry now, at this very moment, but this object, this avocado, it intrigues, it calls to you. On inspection you discover that one side of this avocado is grooved, its green skin gouged, its soft yellow flesh ridged. Ridged, you speculate, by what appears to be a pair of teeth not your own. A rodent’s teeth? You measure the groove against a book of matches. It is a wide groove, matchbook wide. You are not an orthodontist, not an oral surgeon, nor have you earned any graduate credits in zoology. Still, you feel qualified to venture a second speculation: this groove was not made by the teeth of a mouse, or Bugs Bunny. Find the flashlight. Is it under the sink? Poking about, banging into objects, you imagine rat teeth sinking into your knuckles. Forget the flashlight, light a match. Light two matches. Now poke past the insecticide canisters and find a rat trap. The rat trap made with glue. Many French Quarter rentals come replete with rat traps. Peel open carefully, set the trap glue face up (not like the last time) where the avocado had been, there where a patina of rat fur subtle as tooth plaque laminates the formica. Set it snugly against the formica ledge, but allow the crack between ledge and counter to breathe. In order for the trap to succeed, everything around the trap’s milieu must appear normal, so you must provide passage to your housemates the cockroaches, who will press up through the crack onto the ledge and scitter-scatter across the rat trap, leaving at least their scent, perhaps the coffee-ground speckles of their droppings, and these reassuring signs will encourage the rat to venture into the sticky shallow La Brea of his destiny. You are thinking like a rat, cautiously, selfishly, and horizontally sniffing out possibilities in front of your bloodshot beady eyes. Satisfied, you can anticipate results.

Now: you have worked. You have arisen to find a problem in your home, two problems—your head, the avocado—you have addressed them, and they have been dispatched, with prejudice: a thirst has been raised. This thirst creeps up from your stomach and down from your lips, two separate thirst-fronts creeping, creeping, creeping like desert sand in steady wind until they join at the throat and provide a satisfying discomfort—satisfying in that this fresh discomfort introduces a new challenge, a challenge you now meet with the new Old Milwaukee you are cracking. Oh, that stinging in the throat, that dry desert sand washing back whence it came, cool oases irrigating your eyes. Ahhhhhh, you think, the poetry of ahhhhhh. So very fucking ahhhhhh. You are confronting problems. You are meeting them on the playing field of life and the problems are trailing, nil to three.

Like life, you find Sunday, too, is a problem and you have constructed strategies to address it. On the surface, one might find your strategies formless, shapeless, random. But isn’t that precisely the point? Form is emptiness, emptiness form. Bodhi swaha! On Sunday one awakens to problems one can count on—blue laws, headaches, the crossword puzzle; and problems particular to each specific calendar occurrence of Sunday—today’s grooved avocado comes to mind. In this sense, Sunday is both a comfort and a challenge. A character is defined, you recall reading, by its struggles with challenge.

Now there is the challenge of your hunger, a vestigial drive at this point, a habit more than an urgency, but there is strength in ritual, comfort in repetition, meaning in tradition. What tradition might you employ then against your hunger?

The avocado.

Inspect the avocado. Can you salvage the ungrooved portion? Can you cut the groove out from the soft ripe yellow flesh, excavate it in a sense, then scrape your own choppers against the flesh’s green shell? You can’t see why not, can you, and you’re the only one looking (unless, unaware, you are observed by the rat or its minions). So ask yourself: should you be reluctant to place your teeth near where the rat dragged his?

All god’s chilluns gots teeth, you’re thinking, even Mr. Rat.

And don’t you hear the rats each night, gnawing their teeth clean on the rafters in your attic? Wouldn’t dirty teeth fail to leave clean grooves?

Convinced of the viability of said avocado, you look for a clean spoon, a clean knife, anything to avoid actual contact with the remnants of Mr. Rat’s spittle. A bit squeamish, perhaps, but you don’t know Mr. Rat personally, you don’t know his habits with floss. With spoon in hand, look for the dish soap. Failing that, look for a scrub. Where might a scrub be? Ask yourself, and be honest, are you really that hungry?

Reschedule the avocado.

Wash down more Tylenol.

Engage the outdoors.


Up Dauphine Street, paw through the late afternoon humidity, a humidity that hangs like a shower curtain.

Ah, Vieux Carré, you talk a lot, let’s have a look at you. Think I busted a button on me trousers, hope they don’t fall down.

On the sidewalk the hymn of flies on redolent dog droppings baking in the sun with a metallic aromaticity. Consider the regularity of said dogs, the solidity of their stools, the satisfactions the dogs must anticipate every time they assume their pinched posture. Try to recall the last solid stool you passed. Is it your bipedality, you wonder, or your booze that prevents you from experiencing the pleasure of that most canine release?

Avoid the carcasses of roaches the size of harmonicas. Avoid carcasses.

Approaching the corner of Dauphine and Touro, you discern the sickening deposits of last night’s bacchanal percolating throatwards. Clutching the sticky trunk of a banana tree, you hurl. Violently, agonizingly, remedially. Even as you discharge, you think. You are thinking, you are a thought machine. It’s a juxtaposition this time that commands your ideation, the juxtaposition “pink-green vomit and brown-black Louisiana loam.” You are not certain if “loam” is the correct term, horticulturally speaking. You are not certain if horticulture is the correct term. You are certain that you don’t give a fuck because although your gastro-intestinal distress has been somewhat alleviated by the reverse peristalsis, your head now hurts worse. A bit of a pain in the Gulliver . . . And there in the pink-green, brown-black gloop of yester-eve you spy the barely dissolved, barely discolored Extra-Strength Tylenol caplets, the very things that enabled this excursion. Two conflicting impulses obtain: disgust at the puke and desire for the objects of relief that lie therein.

Some persons, you reflect, many even—that vast horde of unstout souls, might, at this time, experience the first stirrings of remorse, depression, self-recrimination. Not you. This is not happening to you, it is happening to the Undiscovered Genius, the character you’ve created to play you in the tragicomic farce you know as “your life.”  The talents of this Undiscovered Genius have yet to manifest in any recognizable form that might ultimately be remunerated by an institution, a governing body, a critical faculty, a network or publishing house, or rewarded by an adoring public. Its nebulosity, you understand, is part of its genius: the suspense! What form will it finally take, you imagine the public you have yet to seduce wondering? As far as forms are concerned, you have already conceded painting; painting is a form for which you demonstrated little if any aptitude. This was evidenced early on and most acutely by the F you took, and deserved, in ninth-grade Studio Art, the year you gave painting the brush. Singing, dancing, the violin . . . these, too, have been purged from your schema. You are practicing the process of discovery through elimination, one step at a time.

Baby steps, increments, walk before you run. These are the building blocks of emotional maturity, psychological wellbeing, if not wisdom. You are, for the moment, satisfied, undissuaded. You retrieve the Tylenol caplets. Demurely, you palm the caplets along your shorts, then mouth them. And you take comfort in the fact that there is nothing that hasn’t been seen in New Orleans, nothing that hasn’t been done. You proceed, head held high, the caplets dissolving, toward the avenue.

At the Li’l General, the beer is buried in the back. Grab two forties. Rip a bag of pork rinds from the wire rack. Rip another. Pinch some hot sauce from a shelf, deliver it to the transvestite who works the register. Do not acknowledge her wink. Do not acknowledge the privileged glimpse she affords you of her newly acquired and, objectively speaking and all context removed, perfectly lovely cleavage, cleavage that, you must admit, sometimes has you imagining improper intimacies. Do not acknowledge the warm stirrings of your loins. You are a man, you come from an era before sex drives became gendered norms. You have no norms. You are instinct. Instinct with boundaries, and this realization carries you back to your earlier speculations re: maturity, psychological wellbeing, wisdom.

With a look of concern, she says, “Sugar Pie, are you going under?”

You tell her a man’s gotta have breakfast.

“It’s suppertime, Sugar,” she says, ringing you up, her long nails clacking on the register’s keys. “Besides, pork rinds and hot sauce do not a breakfast make.”

Technically, you tell her, it’s brunch.

Ignore her offer of brunch.

The New York Times is stacked by the door. Grab one.

On Esplanade, you field strip the paper. The News, the Region, the Week in Review, Business—they all join the beer cans and go-cups and chewed ears of corn bulging from the wire mesh trash basket. Garbage you are happy to leave behind.

Ah but time will tell just who has fell, and who’s been left behind . . .

The rest awaits your scorn at home.

On the avenue’s median, a bearded man walks two giant schnauzers in the shade of the sycamores. This would be you, you reflect, if you had a beard. You, If you Had a Beard, you think: there is a title. You, if you had two schnauzers, you if you had a life. You if there were living things whose welfare depended on you.

The leaves of the banana trees hang like wet towels over the heads of the frail humans who pass below in the fogs of their own biographies. Slow traffic idles by as if it’s arriving from the 1950s. You have arrived from the late 1960s by way of the Reagan ’80s. A life bracketed at one end by Question Mark and the Mysterians, Debbie Gibson at the other. Your once reckless idealism slowly turned to cynicism and that, you can’t for the life of you remember when, turned into despair. Despair was the last feeling-state you recall inhabiting. You recall it, like your long-lost evacuations, with a certain physiological nostalgia. Now you are a drunk, and the feeling-range that that lifestyle affords is either: working well, or not working well. When it’s not working well, its failures are the issue. When it is working well, there are no issues. And isn’t that a reasonable definition of freedom? Not that you’re a particular advocate of reason. Or freedom, for that matter. You may have been once, one, or the other, or both, since, in your thinking they don’t appear to be mutually exclusive. But these are Sunday afternoon ideations under the sagging banana trees of the Vieux Carré, two years into Reagan’s second term, a tickertape of monkey-mind nonsense, really, something to occupy the restless coconut on your shoulders while you step around dog droppings and over the thick roots pressing up sidewalks.

On Frenchmen St., the pedestrian traffic lingers before pottery shops and thrift shops and schedules for bands at Snug Harbor. On a lamppost, the announcement of a new play: I Found a Brain Inside My Boyfriend’s Head. Check the name of the playwright—do you know her? Have you balled her? Balling—that other vestigial drive. A woman is just a woman, you’re thinking, but an ale, a cold ale, even a warm flat stagnant ale, an ale with a fly floating in its scuzz, an ale torpedoed by cigarette butts, an ale impossible to distinguish in color and general rancidity from the urinal in Coop’s, that ale can save your life, and has.


You start at the Arts & Leisure, and the groans begin. That should have been you in the “Conversation with the Filmmaker,” you in the “Profile: Up and Coming”—if you had had the connections. Just look at the names: Redgrave, Coppola, Lennon . . . does anyone start out on their own anymore? Who the fuck did, like, Adam know, back in the garden? Fucking Yawveh?

Sauce up a pork rind, swallow some ale, turn the page.

Move on to the Book Review.

The groans resume.

That should have been you doing the review. No: you being reviewed, you creeping up the “New & Noteworthy,” responding to earnest questions with transcendent irony. If you hadn’t been stuck in a public school. If you hadn’t quit the public school. If your parents read books instead of watched television. Toss the Book Review, toss Arts & Leisure, toss them the fuck across the floor to . . . ah, yes, the TV.

Surf the narrow range of TV channels. A gospel show, an evangelical event, local news figures chatting, a couple of Cajuns fishing, reruns of reruns. You mute the box and stand in front of your record collection, that vast catalogue of the best of mankind. What music do you need to hear? What gnossiènne, what ètude, what Concerto in H-moll will create the correct adjustment to the afternoon’s numbing malaise? But now you discern another noise . . .

. . . a scraping . . . from the direction of the kitchen . . . et voila!

Monsieur Rat (suddenly, you hope momentarily, he has become French), asquirm upon his bed of glue, pinned from the narrow underbite all the way to the asshole. Only the tail and one rear leg, working furiously, remain unstuck.

He is long, slender, gray. Obviously guilty. Still, you interrogate indirectly.

“So tell me,” you begin, “you like avocados?”

The rat wriggles with a violence that vibrates the trap, its fear rippling from ass over ribs.

You wonder at its slender physique. Wouldn’t the meat of an avocado, with its generous fat content and abundance of carbohydrates, wouldn’t it flesh out a little rodent, fill in the valleys between the ribs?

“Maybe you’re the wrong rat?” you say, and the rat just wriggles. “Still,” you suggest, “you wouldn’t be in a fix like this if you hadn’t done something wrong, sometime somewhere. Am I right?”

You turn on the faucet, and the sound of the water rushing further animates the rat’s anxiety.

“Relax,” you tell it. “You’re not guilty, you won’t drown. How do you like it, warm? Hot? Cold?”

With a broomstick you nudge the rat closer to the sink. Its contractions become more violent.

You watch the sink fill. It is dirty. It will be dirtier. Make a note to move before it needs to be cleaned.

“What do you think?” you ask the rat. “You ready? Meet this shit head-on, get it over with?”

The rat’s spasms cause the trap to bounce slightly along the formica.

“Ah come on,” you say with exasperation, “work with me on this.”

Now it is shitting.

It continues to shit when it hits the water, a dirty ink the color of charcoal trailing out its ass like a streamer from a party favor.

“Hey,” you tell it, comfortingly, “you gotta go, you gotta go.”

You watch it struggle, watch it wrestle its fur from the glue—a shoulder, maybe a leg—but as soon as one part’s free another is stuck. You place the broom handle at the trap’s corner and press the trap under. The struggle slows, becomes smaller. Spasms, shudders, tiny bubbles. No disrespect intended, but a measure or two of Don Ho cross the endless jukebox of your mind.

“Aloha,” you tell it.

Et voila—Monsieur Rat est mort.

You look at it there below the surface, its sharp tiny teeth, its long black whiskers, its innocent eyes, and damn if that’s not a grimace of horror you see on its face.

Suddenly there’s a part of you that’s not so glib. You can feel it, there, just under your ribs. A kind of mammalian identification, a kind of dread, a kind of premonition. But in the same instant that you feel it, it disappears. Poof! Gone. It’s not happening to you.

You grab your hat, the crossword puzzle, a pen.

“Be cool,” you tell Mr. Rat.

You’re ready to go out.


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Related posts
Tim Tomlinson – “Look Closer”
October 20, 2017
Tim Tomlinson – poems from “Requiem for the Tree Fort I Set on Fire”
October 16, 2017
Tim Tomlinson – poems from “Yolanda: An Oral History in Verse”
October 13, 2017

Nan Zi (Lee Guan Poon) – “Expressway” (translated by Shelly Bryant)


The English translation of this poem was first published in the programme notes of A Melody named Memory, an event on October 7, 2017 as part of The Arts House’s Poetry with Music series.


Nan Zi (Lee Guan Poon)
the wind through our sleeves
greeted by the sound like roaring waves
sounds ringing in the ear canal
the trees, a wall of green
seen from speeding cars
looking like they will soon collapse
the wheels are an untiring monster
the body of metal
devouring endless miles of road
relentlessly running on
our hands
tightly hold Fate’s steering wheel
what we want to throw out
is not just today’s weather
only an unknown puzzle
can spark our interest in exploration
the fast-moving scenery
fills our eyes
it hits us rhythmically
the monster’s metal bones
the lights like giant pincers
pushing the fog to a halt
drinking enough oil
all that distance
all bowed down
waving the white flag
20 February 1981
from  Nan ZiBiological Clock, 1994
incorporated into secondary school Chinese textbooks in the 1970s
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Poetry, Translation, Uncategorized

Wu Mu (Teo Sum Lim) – 新加坡组曲 (translated as ‘Singapore Suite’ by Shelly Bryant)





The English translation of this poem was first published in the programme notes of A Melody named Memory, an event on October 7, 2017 as part of The Arts House’s Poetry with Music series.

Singapore Suite

Wu Mu (Teo Sum Lim)
– Smoking Barrel –
the Gurkhas hold the hot smoking barrels
aimed coldly at me
with the language of the British colonial government
that year at the Kong Hwa School on Guillemard Road
exploding at the boiling point
(killing is terrible –
the two retreating student leaders before the barrels
like two abandoned, fleeing defeated foes
their crumpling girlish images mesh into mine
refreshing memories now lost half a century)
the group cannot go headless
I choose to walk out on the conflict
to stand and face this turbulent, fearful age
the schemes and oppressions
              of the British colonial government
where the century’s loudest clamour was raised
before the students’ puzzled eyes, I hold my hands high
with this weak flesh
a kind of sacrificial expression
I walk toward these mercenaries
I walk toward the hot smoking barrels they hold
I walk toward purgatory
– Building the MRT Tracks –
outside the house, outside the expressway
highrise buildings and all the civilised construction
accompanied by an unrestrained sound
of continued building
building history, building
of concrete and reinforced pride
the bloodline of a leonine nation
huge palm fronds piercing the clouds
the note sounds unendingly
spread south to north, west to east
such a rugged character
building the MRT tracks, rich in time and space
each section of track pulsing
each cylinder overlaid
      with unparalleled confidence
9 June 1986
first published 13 June 1986 in Lianhe Zaobao • Nebula
– City –
the city wakes from sweet morning dreams
the yellow streetlamps rub sleepy eyes
and corridor lights doze
at rest, red night lights warning flying planes overhead
as neon’s glow is suspended in the rising light of dawn


the HDB flats sown, then renovated every five years
on hard earth, the sound of pile drivers can hardly wait to ring
the jackhammer rushes to join the chorus
the lights have faded, but the birds
     in the branches have yet to open their mouths
the long waves of sound sink heavily into earth and skin
there where our Indian compatriots drum and sing
at the corner of the community centre,
and someone contends with the city’s main tune
for the sake of something called Asian cultural values
in the bold morning
giving a final pull
14 November 1988
first published 8 December 1988 in Lianhe Zaobao • Art City
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Related posts
Dan Ying – 梳起不嫁 (translated as “Combing Up, Never to Marry” by Shelly Bryant)
December 4, 2017
Xi Ni’er – 加冷河 (translated as “Kallang River” by Shelly Bryant)
November 27, 2017
Chua Chee Lay – 同一片天 (translated by Shelly Bryant)
October 2, 2017

Johanna Costigan – three poems

Johanna is from New York and lives in Shanghai. She writes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. She’s a recent graduate of Bard College and works at NYU Shanghai as a Writing and Speaking Fellow.


Three Poems


Someone has to play the dog on a leash.


I wrote it down locked out

“did the cop leave his mark on me when he still didn’t look away?”

Her muumuu

hid the character

for peace has the grain radical in it:

if everyone can eat…

Real dogs are not leashed

though sometimes they are

clothed. Small pink shoes and baggy tube shirt skirt.

A European family of five locks eyes with the least interesting thing on the street:

French bistro.

How much fun is it to edit your food and face? Curious, they got their phones out. I couldn’t tell if you were sick, even when you coughed. Maybe it was smoke. I massaged my own back with a pissed fist.

I guessed how to speak second language sign language. No one noticed the pig in misery while they took pictures with the midget puppy. I keep telling you it’s not hypocritical to prefer food that doesn’t come from your own restaurant. I heard of a girl without lobes who buys hoops just for fun.




The hardest part of miming is keeping symmetry in air. Please do not smoke during the entire flight. She signs the word for “stewardess” like the child that claimed 可以. Her arms gesture above the cobalt neck noose, the bow.

The sign has EXIT lit up in two languages: 出口 plus the arrow. 我们都知道怎么离开. Patterns folding inside, themselves fat in a core.

It’s a difficult trend for 老外, the outside. Other citizens pursue a collective personification of nation, and 外国人, pretend, again. Some vowels you have to send.



Everything you ever wanted to know about animals.

Underwater, Gilgamesh stole the vibrator. I moved into his jaw and we didn’t kiss. He was the strongest; I was the one killing villains. The crab king and I alternated wins; his legs were his downfall. It took a lot of work to crush a crustacean. Old skin slid off the shelled sea mammoth. The ocean ate it. Gilgamesh was the last whale there.

Other species are a mystery. Snakes will not seem to be handicapped. Their soft underbelly is their soft underbelly. Do beavers use sonar? Let this be self-evident: cats can hear death. Everything you see could be remembered. Are salmon bottom feeders? Trust: fish farms would not exist if you didn’t get hungry. I first noticed the circles in your neck when it became clear you were like one of those priests, treating all prey the same.


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November 17, 2017
Poetry, Translation

Dan Ying – 梳起不嫁 (translated as “Combing Up, Never to Marry” by Shelly Bryant)


The English translation of this poem was first published in the programme notes of A Melody named Memory, an event on October 7, 2017 as part of The Arts House’s Poetry with Music series.

Combing Up, Never to Marry   

lying softly on the shoulders
is it only shiny, raven-black hair?
it is dazzling, flickering youth
meandering from Tangshan to Nanyang
a rustling banana breeze, a drizzling coconut rain
the mysterious waterfall
purged over thousands of miles to a slim waistline
delicate and slender, swaying
how many heartstrings from the Han household
how many sentiments of a good man
all have a single effect
     – each in turn lifted
ninth day of the sixth month, the sparrow chirps
crying in the morning light
as everything begins to open its eyes
to find the world still beautiful
how can it be
that the day is still lovely
small bamboo comb in the grasp
the present age
combing out the longing and romance
coming out the good man
     of the Han household
infinite affection, all-embracing love
every stroke, combed
so neat, so clear
looking around in this moment
all is cold and clean
three thousand strands of affection
starting from the ninth day of the sixth month
tightly bound to the back of the head
smooth, dense, neat
no longer free to fly
unable to attract the wind, unable to dress up
where it is touched, the eyes
none without pain, bright eyes
all saddened and melancholy
why comb this brilliant
this bright age of sixteen
down this long lonely road?
why comb sentiments
this girlish sentiment
into sighs of midnight dreams?
why comb the love of the young man
into a lifetime of regret?
why? tell me, why?
Buddha, Kuanyin, eyes of kindness
in the lotus position, silent
listening to the voices of celibate girls
for the sake of dilapidated Tangshan homes
for the sake of the brothers who must carry on the family line
for the sake of not becoming a wife
     the uncertain fate of the daughter-in-law
you have no resentment
with your slim hands
you are willing
to live a lonely life
in exchange for sufficient clothing and food
the day you decided to comb your hair up, you said
the temple bells were especially crisp
smoke drifts, full of father and mother
and brothers’ kind smiles
you say your heart is full of joy
is that true?
have you really never known regret?
an age towers, fifty years
in dust, grease, sewage
long past, with no hate, no love
callouses on your hands and feet
for the distant family, a nephew
building house after house
now, the sun setting, the breeze starting
you are a fast-burning candle
will these brothers, these people
with blood ties or without
grant to you
a tile? beneath your feet
an inch of ground to give?
that year kneeling before the gods
joyful and wholehearted
comb up, never to marry
so moving, that filial piety
did you imagine half a century later
how you would sort through the melancholy
is it more sorrowful the more it is combined?
does each stroke not bring more chaos? at last
the chaos is desolate
unsettled, even more
an unrelenting pain
written in the late 1980s
from Dan Ying’s The Tales Behind the Hair, 1993
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Wu Mu (Teo Sum Lim) – 新加坡组曲 (translated as ‘Singapore Suite’ by Shelly Bryant)
December 11, 2017
Xi Ni’er – 加冷河 (translated as “Kallang River” by Shelly Bryant)
November 27, 2017
Chua Chee Lay – 同一片天 (translated by Shelly Bryant)
October 2, 2017
Poetry, Translation

Xiangyun Lim – a translation of ‘State of Phobia’/恐惧症 by Tang Jui Piow/陈维彪

Xiangyun Lim has a particular interest in translating contemporary works from the Chinese diaspora. Her works can be found in Living in Babel (Canopy), The Creative Literary Studio, and is forthcoming in Poem. Having grown up in Singapore, Xiang has lived in Seattle, Barcelona, Taiwan and United Kingdom. She is one of the recipients of the Singapore Apprenticeship in Literary Translation (SALT).  She can be reached at


State of Phobia


Train home:

A middle-aged lady sits, heavy

with plastic baggies of



“Smells good right? You want one? Cannot,

got fine. Fine how much money ah?


You know, we used to live in Sembawang, it was

a slice of kampung life,

a village of unending chatter

a village moved

into newly built flats. But


it is quiet where I stay now. No one talks.

‘Don’t speak to strangers,’ my son says.

‘Don’t be nosy.’ So

I stay silent.


(Doors open and

close. Train

moves on.)


Do you know? It’s so quiet where I live.

I want to move to Yishun. Nearer to my sister.

There’s this hill, once you see it,

soon you will get off the train.

Many urns on this hill.”


You say,

One could spy eagles then

wings spread

soaring in circles


You say,

Once it rained for so long

rivers of ashes seeped

into soil, flowed

onto roads


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Poetry, Translation

Xi Ni’er – 加冷河 (translated as “Kallang River” by Shelly Bryant)






Shelly Bryant’s English translation of this poem was first published in the programme notes of A Melody named Memory, an event on October 7, 2017 as part of The Arts House’s Poetry with Music series.

Kallang River

There is a river
flowing quietly
– One –
flowing so hesitantly
a river, dragon claws extended
from north to south, its banks spread wide
day and night, its low sob
in the memories of our ancestors
sticking like the colour of skin
how many dreams call him back
how many days, deeply entrenched
in the sediment on each bank
water level rising
with each drink of sweat and tears
a whirlpool swirls, looking for a way out
never seeing a thousand miles of majesty
a river, history telling him that it should return
to the colour of the earth
day and night, becoming a scene of hope
that river, beneath my feet and in my heart
belonging to the memories of the past
without reeds, the whitened banks remain fertile
my glorious river
irrigate me, wash me, that river
in my youth I did not know to build a wall around it
once it is allowed to move out into the South China Sea
it never returns to its old dreams
turbulent river
each whirl turns a muddy disk
the river returns
from the naked youth, home to fish and shrimps
it shrinks into a solitary vine, a song creeping on a tiny map
the history book’s final chapter, silently
at rest
misfortune is still fortune, misfortune or fortune
the roots of an entire history stationed there
the footprints of the Kallang people
the drifting shadow of a Bugis man
the fishing nets of our ancestors
Raffles’ fleet swept past
the blood from the Japanese warrior’s blade
all have been cleansed here
today, leave no more
a trace
last night, a heavy machine’s frame
in the river, amidst the water’s roar
in the tunnel of time
making big changes for you, a complete facelift
that rough iron wrist
thousands of twists and turns leading you
night or day, along these banks and outward
– giving you new life –
to the bitter sea
– Two –
after a light rain
anchored to the bridge
so many years! coming and going
never stopping for a minute to think. Behind
behind is a stone lion
before green waters and blue skies
soft current, calm breeze, solitary man-made rainbow
and yesterday, the scene on both sides so different
yesterday, we leaned on the rail, consuming sweet potatoes
on the left a boatful of rubber, sailed southwards to thriving warehouses
on the right, a tongkang full of boxes started from the UOB Bank warehouse
we squatted on the shoreline releasing and retracting the line
from noon till dusk
from ABCs to PSLE


we ride the stone lion for a photo of our P6 graduation
a cheap camera leaves behind a stack of hazy memories
such as red eggs and coarse rattan
such as Triple 5 cigarettes and comics
such as pulling braids and throwing cockroaches
such as Oriental Red and hymn class
such as struggle and conflict
such as hungry and not hungry
such as ought
and ought not
but what about earlier
an earlier time
at high tide when we caught black shrimps and fingernail clams at tide’s ebb
at noon the rubber factory bell sounds, some
ate and some went to class
we sang of Liu Sanjie and eating green bean soup
bare-butted bathing in the river and playing in the mud
one day members of the Black Ox Party rushed over, then hurried away
one day a fire burned, purging our youthful dreams
we shed tears
and prayed for rain
rain fell on the heart of our yesterdays, and
the bridge of today. On the river
the bridged banks, the lush weeds
stone pier on either side, the fishing boat here no more
leaning on the rail, what should we recall?
the bustle of cars on the bridge
beneath the bridge, the thick waters
coated with a rainbow of grease
flowing waters move toward the past
flowing time grows mouldy before me. Look around
behind me, only a few columns of Bugis Village remain
before me, Marina City waves to me
should I go?
on the riverside, two chairs
with rain and dust, let me sit
and quietly recall. This river
was the longest green shore, and here
lies my first dream…
27 October 1986
from Xi Ni’er’s Kidnapped Years, 1989
Continue reading
Related posts
Wu Mu (Teo Sum Lim) – 新加坡组曲 (translated as ‘Singapore Suite’ by Shelly Bryant)
December 11, 2017
Dan Ying – 梳起不嫁 (translated as “Combing Up, Never to Marry” by Shelly Bryant)
December 4, 2017
Chua Chee Lay – 同一片天 (translated by Shelly Bryant)
October 2, 2017
Poetry, Translation

Xiao Shui – two poems

Xiao Shui, born in Chenzhou, Hunan in 1980, has a degree in law and Chinese Literature from Fudan University. His published collections include Lost and Found, Chinese Class, and Chinese Mugwort: New Jueju Poetry.




Irene Chen is a translator, writer, editor from Harbin who enjoys reading, writing and listening to good stories.

Judith Huang is a writer, editor, and translator from Singapore who also illustrates postcards. She has a huge soft spot for bunnies.


Edited by Chen Bo, Kassy Lee.










Wandering Soul


He was seven that year, when his father fell down at home, he picked up the phone, not panicking at all.

His mother, a painter, remarried a retired general, while he chose to avoid enlistment through self-mutilation.

He came from Daejeon, South Korea. In the taxi he gave me an unexpected kiss, then became distant again, like a stone evaporating from a stone.

Finally leaving China, in an airport hotel, he decided to once more experience the thrill of a stranger.












Doomsday Phenology


Back then my family lived near the reservoir, my father a lumberjack,

my mother a small grocer, her trips into town to restock would sometimes keep her late,

and when her ferry reached the center of the lake, the engine switched off, we would quietly float. Countless egrets engulfed the shore, while the flooded houses would occasionally emerge, covered in soggy weeds.


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Scott L. Satterfield - translation of 'Bamboo Rill' by Tang Shunzhi

竹溪记   予嘗遊於京师侯家富人之園,见其所蓄,自绝徼海外奇花石无所不见,而所不能致者 惟竹。 吾江南人,斩竹而薪之;其为園,亦必购求海外奇花石,或万钱买一石,千钱 买一花,不自惜;然有竹据其间,或芟而去焉,曰 【毋以是占我花石地】,而京师人苟可致一竹,辄不惜数千钱;然遇霜雪,又槁以死。以其难致而又多槁 死,则人益贵之;而江南人甚或笑之,曰【京师人乃宝吾之所薪】!呜呼!奇花石诚为京师与江南人所贵;然穷其所生之地,则绝徼海外之人视之,吾意其亦无以甚异於竹之在江以南。而绝徼海外,或素不产竹之地,而使其人一旦见竹,吾意其必又有甚於京师人之宝之者,是将不胜笑也。语云 【人去乡则益贱,物去乡则益贵】。以此言之,世之好醜,亦何常之有乎? 予舅光禄任君,治园於荆溪之上,徧植以竹,不植他木。竹间作一小楼,暇则与客唸啸其中;而间谓予曰【吾不能与有力者争花石之胜,独此取诸土之所有,可以不劳力而蓊然满园,亦足適也,因自谓竹溪主人,甥其为我记之】。 予以谓,君豈真不能与有力者争,而漫然取诸其土之所有者;无乃独有所深好於竹,而不欲以告人歟?昔人论竹,以为绝无聲色臭味可好,故其巧怪不如石,其妖豔绰约不如花,孑孑然有似乎偃蹇孤特之士,不可以谐於俗;是以自古以来,知好竹者绝少。且彼京师人亦豈能知而贵之,不过欲以此鬥富与奇花石等耳。故京师人之贵竹,与江南人之不贵竹,其为不知竹一也。君生长於纷华,而能不溺乎其中;裘马僮奴歌舞,凡诸富人所酣嗜,一切斥去;尤挺挺不妄与人交,凛然有偃蹇孤特之气,此其於竹必有自得焉;而举凡万物可喜可玩,固有不能间也歟!然则虽使竹非其土之所有,君犹将极其力以致之,而后快乎其心;君之力虽使能尽致奇花石,而其好固有不存也。嗟呼!竹固可以不出江南而取贵也哉 吾重有所感矣!   唐順之   Bamboo Rill   I have strolled in the gardens of the capital’s titled and wealthy, and seeing what...

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