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Assembly Line, By SHU TING

February 02, 1992

In time's assembly line

Night presses against night.

We come off the factory night-shift

In line as we march towards home.

Over our heads in a row

The assembly line of stars

Stretches across the sky.

Beside us, little trees

Stand numb in assembly lines.

The stars must be exhausted

After thousands of years

Of journeys which never change.

The little trees are all sick,

Choked on smog and monotony,

Stripped of their color and shape.

It's not hard to feel for them;

We share the same tempo and rhythm.

Yes, I'm numb to my own existence

As if, like the trees and stars

--perhaps just out of habit

--perhaps just out of sorrow,

I'm unable to show concern

For my own manufactured fate.

From "A Splintered Mirror: Chinese Poetry From the Democracy Movement," translated by Donald Finkel, additional translations by Carolyn Kizer (North Point Press: $25; 117 pp.). The poem above, translated by Kizer, will strike most readers as far too misty to build a political movement around. The same would go for most of the rest of the beautiful, deeply felt poetry collected in this late book from the now defunct North Point Press. "Misty," however, is the epithet that the Beijing regime attached in the 1970s to a group of seven poets, whose indulgence in merely private feeling was, in the Chinese political context, corrupt and corrupting. The poets seized the government's label and made it their own. Shu Ting, born in 1952, was exiled from Beijing to a remote village during the Cultural Revolution. It was there that she began to write, and she achieved such a reputation that even official critics had to recognize her. One of only two of the original seven misty poets who is still in China, Shu Ting lives in Xiamen.

1991 by Donald Finkel. Reprinted by permission of North Point Press.

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