The Ant’s Plunder
~Xi Chuan, translated by Lucas Klein
The Ant’s Plunder
When I stuck out my hand to grab the iron door handle, a hidden ant attacked my right
index finger. I don’t know if it pinched me with its pincers or bit me with its mouth. I
don’t know how it got so strong.
In an instant, it turned itself into a weapon. The pain was so great that I cursed this
neither common nor rare 1.5–centimeter long ant. This may be the greatest
achievement of its life: to cause a man such piercing pain.
Like the filament of a light bulb, the six legs of an ant befit its existence. Its body,
bright yellow in front and brown in back, is filled with liquid, like two water droplets
Two water droplets fused together to produce a will to live, a will to live that produces
the pincers protruding from the ant’s head. The ant and the crab both use pincers,
whose only difference is their size.
In stabbing pain, I examine this ant.
In the throbs of pain the ant and I encounter each other. I never thought ―the encounter
between Man and World‖ of which Heidegger spoke would find form between me and
ant. This ant lives to sting me; I live to curse it in pain.
The arc of my life hooks onto the arc of its life, which is kind of significant. Kill it? Easy. But it
knew I couldn’t. It scurried away, flustered, pretending to ignore my curses.
Xi Chuan 西川 (penname of Liu Jun 刘军) was born in Jiangsu in 1963 but grew up in Beijing, where he still lives. One of contemporary China’s most celebrated poets, having won the Lu Xun Prize for Literature (2001) and the Zhuang Zhongwen Prize (2003), he is also one of its most hyphenated littérateurs—teacher-essayist-translator-editor-poet—and has been described by American writer Eliot Weinberger as a ―polymath, equally at home discussing the latest American poetry or Shang Dynasty numismatics.‖ A graduate of the English dept. of Beijing University, where his thesis was on Ezra Pound’s Chinese translations, he is currently employed at the Central Academy for Fine Arts in Beijing, where he was hired as an English instructor, then taught Western literature in Chinese translation, and now teaches pre-modern Chinese literature. He has taught at New York University (2007) and University of Victoria (2009), and is currently translating the work of Gary Snyder into Chinese.
Lucas Klein—a former radio DJ and union organizer—is a writer, translator, and editor of CipherJournal.com. His translations, essays, and poems have appeared at Two Lines, Jacket, and Drunken Boat, and he has regularly reviewed books for Rain Taxi and other venues. A graduate of Middlebury College (BA) and Yale University (PhD), he is Assistant Professor in the dept. of Chinese, Translation & Linguistics at City University of Hong Kong. Endure, a small collection of Bei Dao 北島 poems translated with Clayton Eshleman, is now out from Black Widow Press, and his translations of Xi Chuan 西川 are forthcoming from New Directions as Notes on the Mosquito (see http://xichuanpoetry.com for more information). He is also at work translating Tang dynasty poet Li Shangyin 李商隱.