Christopher Kelen

Christopher (Kit) Kelen is an Associate Professor at the University of Macau in south China, where he has taught Literature and Creative Writing for the last seven years. The most recent of Kelen’s seven volumes of poetry Eight Days in Lhasa was published by VAC in Chicago in 2006. A volume of Macao poems Dredging the Delta is forthcoming from Cinnamon Press in the U.K.



Free translations from Xin Qiji (1140-1207)

water dragon chant #3

the horses of heaven
float back from the south

the elders of the central plain
wish to attack the north

nothing changes

around the Prime Minister’s villa
the party goes on day and night

fragrance of flowers, songs
with birds singing, it’s always
‘let’s raise just this one more cup’

those officials meant
to protect the country
empty it of what’s worth saving

how efficient they are

the northern tribes will never come
knowing there’s not a thing
left for them


congratulating the bride

I can’t help it but I’m getting old
I don’t travel much anymore
old friends are fewer
white hair is more
you laugh at the world
or you cry 

what is there makes an old man happy?
not weddings so much I’m sorry to say
but I look into green mountains
among them lies always the smile of a valley 
the mountain and I this way alike

a glass of my favourite brew by the window
and waiting for a friend to come
 I think of Tao Yuanming’s poem −
the motionless cloud −
that’s me

those who wish to be famous
drink on the other side of the river
discover deep meanings
in dregs of the wine

I turn my head now
to roar with the wind
I’ll never regret
having not met the heroes
though I could do with
one or two here right now 

what worries me
is just that
they’d trip
over my beard
if they came


second poem to the slow tune of ‘lily magnolias

down now I’m old
libido less
at banquets I fear
how merciless time

autumn’s coming
moon’s bright and round
but it won’t shine on my next reunions
the Yellow Springs are too far

if the emperor asks me
to pen him an edict
I’ve already worked out
what I will say

my wish is to wake
from wine into autumn
play over
its empty strings

the river cares for nothing, for nobody
follows the west wind

and whether they’re king’s
or whether they’re commoners’
that wind
blows boats away’


god of water

I laugh at the water god
wonder what angers him

I laugh at the goddess
now amending the sky

no paths to follow
through this weed, this mist

I take a walking stick
to the dark green moss

was it I who asked for this wind
for this rain
all these thousand years?

the shepherd boys here
started a fire
sometimes oxen and sheep
will lock horns

spring on the rock
like a drop of fresh milk
now and then jade blossoms there

four, five pagodas
singing and dancing

water god, goddess
both laugh at me now

peasants call
‘don’t think too hard,
just join in’


how can I get Spring to stay?

how can I get Spring to stay?
tonight there’s nothing in my cup

the five hours −
each has its own dream

paws up in sleep
but each dream runs away

morning − the birds here
sing the sun up

behind closed curtains and closed lids
I let the jade screen’s story run