Translated by Mark Bender
Aku Wuwu reciting at international poetry salon, Mother Tongue Bar, Chengdu, Sichuan, 2012. Photo by Mark Bender.
Aku Wuwu (Luo Qingchun) was born in 1964 in Mianning County, Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province. His works have been published in journals and edited volumes such as Manoa, Ratapallax, Cha, and Basalt. His collection of Nuosu and Chinese-language poems, Tiger Traces, was published in a 2005 trilingual edition. Aku Wuwu is currently dean and professor of Ethnic Minority Studies at the Southwest University of Nationalities, Chengdu, Sichuan Province.
In the mountain hamlets,
Those who know how to make the grass effigies,1
Who know how to conduct the grass effigy rituals,
Are more numerous than ant eggs beneath stone slabs.
Thus, the expanse of pine forest below the village
That was planted by seeds spread by an airplane, and
Forests, whether large or small,
All seem like bunches of spiders carrying their eggs,
And seem like married women in the fields
Carrying their children as they plant the crops.
But, in the mountain hamlets,
When the children are crying inside the home,
And the cuckoo is calling outside,
At this time, the cries of the pine-tree children
Day by day become compost,
And because of this happening four seasons out of the year,
The sound of the wind in the pine forests
Becomes ever greener;
Thus, though people have ears, they don’t hear it,
And though they have eyes, they don’t see it.
After the effigies were ritually sent away
The matron of a family felt secure.
But, when the fire in the fireplace began to verbosely hiss,
The matron felt perturbed,
And pulled out the half-burned sticks and
Stuck them in left-over pig slop.
Not so long after,
The brother of the matron slipped on the way,
And fell into water and drowned.
This bad news was spread by the wind;
Then the weeping was like cold water doused on a fire.
The red-footed grasses
Are cut and re-grow,
Cut and re-grow.
The grass effigies in the pine forests,
The old are followed by the new,
The old are followed by the new.
In the past were the Twelve Sons of Snow and
The red-footed grasses were among those sons of snow.
But not many people still remember this.
Now ant eggs have become stars in the sky,
Becoming the old bear’s most lovely ornaments.
bbap ga go co ry bbur yu ry bbur jyp get su lur juo lap vut bbut vup qip ww nyip ap cy.2
xip hnex, kie jjyx fi jy lyp fi jy zy da su te juo jot su, jjyt jjyt yy ww, bbu nyip mop qip byp gge jjip sat, ap mop vu ax yi byp da zzax zy yy qix njuo su jjip sat.
tit, bbap ga vo co ax yi ix go gox te go, got bbu ddep bbo mo; xip te go, “te juo ax yi” ngox fu li, cyp nyip cyp hxop mu xy jjip bit jjip ge jox jjip, te juo xip hnex kut la mu ggup ryp nbux fu vut zhur vut hlop pur yip go, vo co hne ndit go ap hna nyou ndit go ap hlut.
ry bbur jyp shu bbo wa ne, yi nyix ap mop jie pa lyp dip ww. tit, ga kux mup dut hxax shyr bba ddie lix sy vex, yi nyix ap mop hxie lit nyou ndat ox ddix da, syr nzat jjie hop cy gep cy shu vot yy zzy go zip. a hxox ap jjip mu, yi nyix ap mop hmap zyt mux sse ggup ggot gag got gat qip yy ndox sy ddix ddop ngo hly sip bbi. xip te go, ngox fu yy mgo mup dut sit mu sit.
ryp ddu xy hni yyt dde nix dde xi. te juo ry bbur shyt ddur li zot qip. a hlex von re sse ku jox, ryp ddu xy hni von re sse nge su, co shut a hnat go shut su ap jjo.
bbut vup qip ww jyx sse jjip, wo mox ndit fu ndit hne kax nze ww …
1 Translator’s note: Grass effigies are made of twisted grass and represent ghosts that bring sickness and misfortune. After rituals, they are disposed of in the mountains and are thought to carry harmful forces away from homes and villages. The hearth and fire in Yi homes should always be respected. If disrespected (as in this poem), harm will follow. The Sons of Snow are the creatures (including humans) and plants that transformed from falling snow during the last age of creation. The theme of this poem is the loss of the meaning of traditions in the wake of modernization and globalization.
2 Translator’s note: Northern Yi (Nuosu) is a Tibeto-Burman language spoken in Yi areas of Sichuan Province. Yi ritualists still use their ancient writing system, but an official modern system based on the older graphs was developed in the 1970s. In addition, a Romanization system, sometimes used by scholars, has been developed, and is used here to present the text.
From Chinese Literature Today Vol. 4 No. 1