Poems by Yu Jian

The Beer Bottle-top

Translated by Simon Patton

unsure of how to address it
it was still sitting at the head of the table only a moment ago
the custodian of a bottle of stout
absolutely indispensable
it has a sense of its own status
signifying conviviality as the sun goes down
and the depth of froth in a glass
opened with a pop at the start of the evening meal
the action strikingly similar to that of a bullfrog
the waiter even believes that it really is a frog
believes that something on the table covered with cooked food has unexpectedly been brought back to life
he is vexed by his misunderstanding
and immediately shifts his attention to a toothpick
he is the last one
after him
the world gives it no further thought
with no other entries on it in the dictionary
no original meanings extended meanings transferred meanings
but those dishes originally arranged in submission before it
signify nothing less than the flavours of Sichuan cuisine
the napkin is touched by the hand of a general
the roses in full bloom
an allusion to privilege
in an eccentric arc it exited this gathering
an arc not its own
the brewery
never designed such a line for its product
it now lies on the floor with the cigarette butts
bones and other rubbish
an unrelated jumble
an impromptu design
of no use to anyone
but its plight is even more wretched
a butt reminds the world of a slob
a bone brings to mind a dog or a cat
and footprints of course allude to a human life
it is waste
its whiteness being nothing more than its whiteness
and its shape nothing more than its shape
it falls beyond the reach of our adjectives
I wasn't a drinker then
it was I who opened the bottle of beer
and for this reason I noticed its strange leap
its simple disappearance
I suddenly tried to imagine the pop it made
jumping out into space
but was unable
mine was the body of an author of a collection of poetry and sixty kilograms of corporeal existence
all I did was bend down
and pick up this alluring small white object
it was hard
with a serrated rim
which cut into my finger
and made me feel a sharpness unlike that of knives

February 1991