Chen LiChen Li was born in Hualien, Taiwan in 1954. Regarded as “one of the most innovative and exciting poets writing in Chinese today,” he is the author of 14 books of poetry and a prolific prose writer and translator. He graduated from the English Department of National Taiwan Normal University. With his wife Chang Fen-ling, he has translated into Chinese over 20 volumes of poetry, including the works of Sylvia Plath, Seamus Heaney, Pablo Neruda, Octavio Paz, Wisława Szymborska, Tomas Tranströmer and Yosano Akiko. The recipient of many awards (e.g., the National Award for Literature and Arts, the Taiwan Literature Award) in his country, he is the organizer of the annual Pacific Poetry Festival in his hometown. His poems have been translated into English, French, Dutch, German, Spanish, Japanese, Korean and Croatian, among other languages.



Translated by Chang Fen-ling

Black Sheep

Dropping out of senior high and fooling around, my youngest brother is the black sheep of us three brothers. Although he has a blue dragon tattooed on his leg, his heart is as gentle and weak as our mother’s. Mother, who has been riding a bike to and from work all her life, has been paying off debts all her life. She has wished her youngest son to stop going astray. After the several motorcycles and cars she had bought for him were all gone, she borrowed money and bought him another car without my knowledge. That was a white car, white as the morning fog on winter days. That morning when I returned to Shanghai Street, I saw her, with cleaning cloth in hand, sneaking toward the white car parked on the roadside and wiping its body forcefully but gently, as if to rub the black sheep into a white one. She rubbed and rubbed, because she knew the white car might soon be gone, and she had to sew the white skin on quickly before the black sheep woke up.



The Tongue

I left a segment of my tongue in her pencil box. Consequently, every time she opened it to write a letter to her new lover, she would hear my mumbling words, which were like a line of scribbles, chafing among commas with the movement of her newly sharpened pencil. Then she would stop writing, not knowing it was my voice. She thought that I, who had never spoken to her since we last met, had kept silent for good. She wrote another line, finding the Chinese character “愛” (love), which consisted of so many strokes, was carelessly written. She handily picked up my tongue. Mistaking it for an eraser, she rubbed it forcefully on the paper, leaving a considerable drop of blood on the spot where the character “愛” disappeared.