Yan, Li ( b. 1954, Beijing) is a painter and a poet. As a member of the group of artists known as The Stars in 1979 Beijing. And He exhibited first one man show in 1984 at people’s park in Shanghai, This is also the first one-man Avant garde art show after 1949 in China. He belonged to the loose assortment of young poets active in China in the late 1970s to mid-1980s who are labelled "misty". Like many of his contemporaries, he began writing poetry and painting in oils during the Cultural Revolution. He has held many exhibitions and published numerous books。The last poetry appears in an anthology “ LANGUAGE FOR A NEW CENTURY” published by W. W. Norton.2008.He is doing living in both Shanghai and New York now.

Give It Back to Me

Give it back to me!
Please give me back the door without a lock
even without a room still I want it back please!
Give it back!
Please give me back the rooster that awakens me
in the morning
even if you have finished eating it still I want the
bones back please!
Please give me back the shepherd‘s song
from the side of the hill
even if it is on tape still I want
that flute back please!
Please give me back the space of love
even if you‘ve polluted it, still I want the right
to protect our environment, please!
Please give me back a relationship to my
brothers and sisters
even if it lasts just half a year, still I want it
back please!
Please give me back the whole of the globe
even divided into thousands of nations
hundreds of thousands of villages
still I want it back please!


I Am Snow

I am snow
The sun translates me into water
I am water
I translate seeds into plants
I am plant
I translate flowers into fruit
I am fruit
My parents translate me into life
I am life
Old age translates me into death
I am death
Winter translates me into snow
I am snow
The sun translates me into water


New York

If you haven’t been to New York
you haven’t been to America,
But Americans keep up their guard about New York.

Being in New York is equal to lengthening your lifespan.
The experience you get in a year
takes ten years in other places.
He who combines the experience of all human races
Is a person named New York.

In New York you make a sobering discovery:
You get twisted by your own meanness into a spring.
Many of the world’s famous springs
Emerged from the pressures of New York.

And the cabbies of New York
Are ready to take world trends through
all the red lights of tradition,
But when they do,
Don’t forget the tip.

Travelers in this garden of New York all know
The honeybees of New York have no problem
Getting nectar from plastic flowers.

New York is nicknamed the “Big Apple,”
But this apple is not just passed from Adam to Eve.
Eve has also passed it to Eve,
And Adam to Adam.

New York at nightfall,
Before it swallows the last rays of hectic day,
Is frantic to twist the buttons of lamplight.
Up-front desires always put on lipstick
Just like all the advertisements.

Prostitutes are one of New York’s illegal drugs,
But the prescription that life writes for a fellow
Is often “one whore, to be taken at night.”

New York, New York
This place where freedom is woven into wings
And winners hire people to fly for them.

The cars of so many ways of life
cruise down New York’s avenues.
No matter what make and model you invent,
No matter how great the historical span of your tires,
New York’s merchants have set up a gas station
on your future road.

New York, New York
New York filters
the blood of the world through its heart;
It filters blood into Coca-Cola and sends it
flowing everywhere in the world.



A dog that only goes wild after death
Clamps the world in its jaws and won‘t let go
Poems of tomorrow have no answer either
Clamping their own crimes in their jaws

Those dogs who lived long enough in the city
Taking along apartment buildings softened by furniture
Will charge into the pregnancy of an orchard
And clamp jaws on an unborn infant‘s original face

Dog teeth will have become piano keys
Only bone-crunching music will rate
popularity in this world
Suffering will still be re-published sheet music
So machines in printing plants will still be best at singing

Ah, tomorrow
The home-guarding talents of tomorrow‘s dogs
will be snipped out at the hospital
A homeless world with dogs vacationing everywhere
Puffs of clouds like dogs will often float by in the sky
Some airplaine flying artists
Will paint young women clouds in the sky
Tomorrow‘s dogs tracking June mornings and
December afternoons
Will still expose their bored tongues
swallow even dirtier things to cut down reproduction
Tomorrow‘s dogs make a science of
freakishly prolonged life

Tomorrow‘s doghouses can be hung any
old place like a shirt
But tomorrow‘s dogskins will be shed by dogs
Tomorrow a dog of an orbital sattelite
Having shaken off its tail wagged to cinders
Will go off into space to be human

Ah, tomorrow
I too will have such a tomorrow
So take advantage of today
Before the sky, as wide as the solar system, is chained
like a dog
Holding my shadow in my mouth
From where sunlight is
From out of lamplight
And even from enchanting moonlight
I have come out
I have come out forever.


After all these years of waiting
This fishhook of mine
In the pond without fish
Starts swimming for itself
Then after more years of swimming
With a look of resignation
It gulps itself down


The Bright Saturday Sunlight

In the bright Sunday sunlight
we sit in the garden cafe
talking about death and travel
about suicide
from this world to another
after the dead arrive in the other world
they return to this one with another suicide

The bright Sunday sunlight
It’s really damn bright



The state has occupied all geographical surfaces
I can only construct my inner world downward
The government has occupied the biggest banquet table
The plate in my hands has to serve as my table
Social institutions occupy all the skeletal joints
So I pound out a romantic mood with percussion of flesh
Schools have occupied the vantage point of education
All my theories can do is fight guerilla actions
My wife has occupied the facial expression of family life
All I can do is polish the mirror a little brighter
My children have occupied the future
All I can do is help them tie their shoes
For this kind of arrangement
All I can say is thank you


The Refinement of Corruption

Please use your imagination
Imagine thousands of craftsmen, down through the ages
Making a multigenerational effort
To polish the world’s biggest piece of jade
How could it be anything but smooth?
So wide-open and inviting to the touch
How could it be anything but hard?
Butt against it and get a bloody forehead
How could its surface fail to reflect light?
Along its contours you see the whole world
Twisted out of shape



The word "rape" is full of violence
The air has been raped
Food has been raped
Rivers and cultures have been raped
Even reflective thinking has been raped
Certain things still of tender age
Have also been raped

There are other after-effects of rape
Aside from inner wounds
Such as pregnancy
Such as induced abortion
Such as having to give birth to the child
Due to the kinds of rape mentioned above
In quite a few countries
The births have already happened

March 2011


The moment I awake
I discover this morning
Is more wonderful than ever
I also discover
My hands have bloody marks
Then it occurs to me
Last night I killed something
It was a hangman’s noose

May 2012

Denis Mair. Poet and translator. He is a co-translator of Frontier Taiwan(Columbia). His book of poems Man Cut in Wood was published by Valley Contemporary Press. He has lectured on I Ching at the Temple School of Poetry (Walla Walla).



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