The Lighthouses

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The lighthouses lead the land into the sea

to drown. When we throw cobblestones into the brain’s whirlpool

we see it, far off, indiscernible between

sand castles, a spectral shadow dropped from the night sky

it blinks, sweeping over this decrepit century

like the priest standing at my interment

carried my life away in one black sleeve.

 

The lighthouses break Earth into splintered ships

and banish the blind passengers

Travelers reeling in the lighthouse’s maze

forsake their households, drain

their flask of moonlight and begin to search

But the route at their ankles is heavier

and hurts like shackles. Between lighthouse and lighthouse

they shiver and pace. Between coast and coast

 

lighthouses play the ocean’s nocturne on the tide.

No one hears. Carcasses and bloody flotsam

dangle from the strings, like a lighthouse hung

on the horizon with no steward

Our inner destination, disaster, the other side

A single bud breaking over the cliff wall

 

This is beyond reach, this is

a word becoming obsolete, remnants in a clamshell

and unable to speak, a

rapacious tyrant, or an angel, chosen

by pilgrims as the fisherman of the age

who steals fire from the mountain, yet feeds us ash,

makes us practice, and become salt in the fish pile

 

Yet the white-hot salt can’t illumine

the traveler at midnight, exhausted

deluded by the lighthouses he cannot see

he stumbles into desire, suffocates, naked

 

and too ashamed to speak, smote eyeless by lighthouses

Yet we can still hear the gulls

nesting at the top, nourishing our headstone

with feces. They leave home to find food,

and make no mention of the lighthouse.

 

Translated from the Chinese by Canaan Morse.

Yang Xiaobin is a fellow at Taiwan's Academia Sinica. He is a postmodern theorist and poet whose work has influenced Chinese-language poets on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

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