“June Is Almost Done” by Nianxi Chen

Nianxi Chen


June is almost done. In all of June,
I didn’t finish a single thing.
Father is in bed,
smaller and smaller, day by day.
The time left to him by the world
isn’t much.
And how much is left to me?
I visit him three times per day,
nothing more than ten steps looking at five.
The south-facing window is always open.
Father crafted the wood lattice when he was a young man.
Last night, he awoke from a coma,
suddenly told Mother: When I’m gone,
bury me with my carpenter ax.
June is almost done. Cornstalks in the field
are as tall as a man.
The empty mountain is filled with cicada sounds.
Only newcomers comfort the leave-takers.
Only time receives the world’s enlightenment.
Translated from the Chinese by Melisa Cahnmann-Taylor and Kuo Zhang

from Rattle #77, Fall 2022
Tribute to Translation


Nianxi Chen, born in 1970 at Danfeng, Shannxi Province, began writing poems in 1990. In 1999, he left his hometown and labored as a miner for 16 years across China. In 2015, he couldn’t continue as a miner due to occupational disease. In 2016, he was awarded the Laureate Worker Poet Prize. His poetry and life were featured in a 2018 documentary entitled Demolition Work about migrant worker poets in China. | Melisa Cahnmann-Taylor & Kuo Zhang: “As poets and scholars in the field of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) we have been collaborating as writers and academics for many years, considering the role poetry plays in translation beyond words but toward full recognition of diverse human experience. Kuo Zhang introduced Melisa Cahnmann-Taylor to the Mandarin language poet Nianxi Chen and his unique voice to represent a life full of labor and hardship as a miner in one of the most desolate areas in China. Working on the first English translation of his work, we were moved by Nianxi’s personal hardships as a mine blaster as well as the depth of his reflections on the great precarity of the human condition. As his co-workers lost limbs and lives, Nianxi suffered hearing loss and lung disease, using a barrel of explosives after work as a writing table. His poetry showcases the depth of intelligence and persistence that can arise from one of the many darkest corners in the world.”

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