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Chinese Xue Di, a gifted writer who sees the world in a poet's eye

Xue Di was born in Beijing.  He is the author of four volumes of collected works and one book of criticism on contemporary Chinese poetry in Chinese.  In English translation, he has published four full length books, Across Borders, Another Kind of Tenderness, An Ordinary Day and Heart into Soil, and four chapbooks, Forgive, Cat’s Eye in a Splintered Mirror, Circumstances and Flames.  His work has appeared in numerous American journals and anthologies and has been translated into several languages.  Xue Di is a two-time recipient of the Hellman/Hammett Award, and a recipient of the Lannan Foundation Fellowship.

Alexandria Shang '15 spoke with Xue Di, poet and current Brown University staff member about his experiences growing up in China, his poetry, and how he first came to Brown.

Cat's Eye in a Splintered Mirror


Stones, through hollow walls, gathering
in deserted upland. Noon wind’s dizzy singsong from
a local flock. Behind the dim-faced farmer
wheat fields grow sweeter
Water flows upward through scattered roots
making the pure earth visible
to the toiler

Unexpectedly a traveler from afar
arrives at this very angle, to revisit
his perennial soul-mate. In the brief light
their given bodies address each other
See how the soul, in these lowlands, loves
the body—long mystery of our lives
Now with dark, bats in a flurry
swoop down. A yellow weasel hunts for garbage
through an ordinary man’s dream. A glittering steel tower
fades in a tubercular’s memory

To comprehend an enduring abstract journey
find an angle, then walk it upwards
Now: keep within pure knowing


Suffering makes us pay more attention
to living, given that leftovers dwindle

and that what we love zips by
presto out of sight. Happy loves

are only memories, once at hand now
out of reach. Then love

mourns, accommodating fatalism
history’s ignorance, our own

deep sad profiles: beautiful

helpless, seeing no end. Tragedy
turns two faces, one making us

weep in company, the other
a source of consolation

in the dark silence, along


It will certainly come, your day of aging
The guard-rail of your life is already rusted and rotting
You will walk the fields alone
flower petals in your hand melting to tired tears

Then, will you think of me
A silent tree scraped by the
sound of your wheels. You will
stand by the tree, lean on it for momentary respite
its body also scarred and decrepit

reach out a hand, pick a leaf
as if taking a book of poetry from the shelf
look at the veins in their cross-hatchings
sigh quietly. A red-breasted bird
beats its wings into the distance

Hotel Viking

In the wake of a prefabricated passenger ship
the ocean, as if with an old cotton blanket

weighs deeply on a body wide awake
The sky in the eyes of a scattered school of fish

grows brighter and brighter. The bridge that spans the
brine crosses also the opaque middle-aged mind

dark path between two precise terms
My mother grieving

writes to her faraway son
Waterbirds, lonely, follow the lights

toward regions of cold where they hover
This evening the hotel room’s thermosystem

thundered without rest. Number 634
said the key in the unlit hallway

In my homeland some valuable
persons are disappearing

From “Summer”

Promises, contracts I made as a child. I'm someone the world is bored with, seeking stubbornly my childhood gift, picking faults with people. The kernel of the seasons is my heart. Rare plants expose their roots to me.

He forgets his homeland, finds a dream at the center of a seed. When dawn delivers his hand out of dark night, August is there like a divorcee. The sky is bright and pure for one moment only. I'm overjoyed! I've nothing to say.

Mad summer! Exhausting weather. I'm always on the go, to avoid happy crowds. Indulged by heavenly voices, I pick clean words from the sound of plants breathing. The pain of life walks in front of me, like an animal traveling alone.


The living
are shadows of the dead
They make noise
When the dead dream in the silent dark
when the dead wake
the living feel sudden terror
day-long loneliness
It is the dead
who have left home
to meet their family on the way
The living, day by day, age
It is the dead who try to
return to the world
The living feel alone
when they meet each other
They shout "Who
loves me?"
It is the dead standing
next to them
The dead clench their teeth
with contempt
with revenge
Because the living
are always giving the dead a bad name

From “Remembering”

Childhood! My poems a clean house
the fields a ball rolling
Mother's two baskets on a pole across her shoulder
Over emerald leaves, rivers rush on
Had I ever worn the anxious look I wear now?
Make my poems a rag to wipe with—wash here, wash there
Make grating sounds—wrench here, wrench there
Throw the books on the floor
From a snowy sky remote from humanity
snowflakes striking become soundless tears
Had I ever tried to praise beauty?
My entire body glittering quicksilver
my first song was in my youth
My teeth shone then like the horns of a fawn
in the pride of life, my smile unhidden
I walked then
like water drawn from a well



I am a child grown from tree branches, sunlight blew me to the ground. You passed through that orchard and led me home.
Through nights you consoled me, answered my why’s and where from’s.

I once was a sky-strung star, flickering. You stood in the courtyard under a sophora tree, watching. Songs you sang lured me down.
By my small wooden bed you sang those songs, lulling me to sleep.

Ages ago, the world was covered by sea. In the middle of the sea was an island and on the island, a cave. I was discovered in that cave. Who put me there, you say you also don’t know.
I believed, Mama. I believed I came from outside your body. Along a tree-shaded road we found each other.

Mama, I’m grown, old enough to wander through fairy tales and never lose my way.
But I still believe your words. Absolute.
Still, of that tree, night sky, vast sea, I have my own sense, deeply.

From “Remembering”

Crack the world to its core, you'll find a poem
Standing in the presence of poetry
is all that can make my whole body tremble
Hearing insects make love
my blood gushes from poetry's heart
words tumbling over each other
clambering over light-beams in the wheat
Empty conch shell. Anxiety and respect
together forge a brain. Still in a woman's womb
love, gleaming gold from head to foot, rising
on this fluid, a hand takes hold of the ocean's horn
From the moment a melody called to me
life showed me the delicate bones of men
filled with a marrow of purest gold and
praised by poetry
Our ancestors appreciated in silence
the sharp shards of those bones
the trembling of these healthy beasts
at life's very center
Fields of flowers opened by light

Green in Green

Idle as that fox who is sauntering
uphill. The canyon opens wide
Woods quiver at the top. A pheasant
jumps from one square pebble to another
setting the stream to tinkling. Deep in the woods
a wild boar, green from snout to tail, is spoiling
the clover. There you have my youth. Now
squandering dreams and wishes, I've unwittingly become
a poet of gloom in solitude and wine bibbing
Deeper green, with the cry of a fawn
unfolds in carefully ordered words

The photos are posted and credited to the photographer by Xue Di on Facebook. Poems are written by Xue Di and translated from Chinese into English by translators.

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