Cai Tianxin

translated by Robert Berold



Dream of Living in the World


Branches grow from clouds.

Birds fly eagerly towards my eyes.


Landscape and smoke billow over the house.

Rivers run along my arms.


The moon is a blue sapphire

Set in a ring.


I stand on the precipice of the ear

Dream of living in the world.



A Poem







   on the

sandy shore


 her hair

 bound by

white clouds



swallowed by

  the sea



When summer retreats to the south

along the wandering coastline


When summer retreats to the south

along the wandering coastline

fall creeps in, grasping the moment

rushing to saturate parched fields.

I hear a song from the ocean

the sweet voice of an old lover.

Sitting on a reef she takes off her clothes

while I listen attentively with one ear

and one star from my childhood.



The Persistence of Memory


I remember it was summer:

a green beetle, crawling

on my open volume of poems

paused alongside the name David Ignatow.

For a long time not wanting to leave

it joined my reading. Joyfully,

using my littlest finger,

I delicately touched its belly.

In the flick of an eye

it already lay there

turned to a footnote.

It shared my happiness

forever persists in my memory.



Lotus Lake


Once while rowing on Lotus Lake, I saw

a young woman deep in thought on the shore

the buttons glinting on her summer dress.

Rowing closer, I invited her to join me.


At first I startled her, but then she smiled.

Twilight fell around us, shortening

all distances ; a subtle beauty spot

closer than a book, further than a star





The sun is a mango.

Cut open, it's the day.

Left uncut, the evening.

We swallow sunlight

Making strong muscles.

While we sleep

Sunlight flows into our blood

Travels throughout our body.

On its journey it meets

Another piece of sunlight.



Green wind


A breeze winding through the canyon of the buildings

passes over the windowsill with its vase

blowing off all the leaves of one flower

off another all the petals so that only leaves remain

the wind reaches the sad face of a woman

whose eyes show she is lost in thought

the wind gently loosens her clothing

filling her dress with one more breast

the weight of the wind lies full length along her body



The river of my mind


I like to stand before you

and let the light of your forehead

shine upon the river of my mind


Your luxuriant hair

scatters over the riverbanks like villages

its fragrance floats on the wind


When I move closer

the small boat of your nose

swiftly turns away





Squeezes through the window’s burglar bars

breaks a chair into pieces over his knee

the winter wind sneaks away from the belly of the plane trees

the shadow of fallen leaves drags on the ground and vanishes

like snow which falls into a lake and dissolves into the water

important people commute to their offices in chaffeur-driven cars

while children are propelled around by one small desire

we live in this world like a volley of bullets

passing through the wall of the dark night



Wings of recollection


When urged by curiosity, obeying fantasy

I recall my remote past –

a pair of hands swollen with frostbite

appear behind a white curtain

the face of someone close who died long ago

a distant lavender-coloured memory

which changes into a mousehole

and then into an old-style house with a flagstone floor

which injures the eyelid of dark night

then changes again into an armchair carefully made

and a bookshelf with a few books

two flaps of the wings of recollection



Green Blood


Coming back from the north in deep night

I enter my home, turn, closing the door

find on the steps sycamore leaves

left by the typhoon

limbs and trunk already dragged off.

I thought I saw pools of blood

coagulated on the ground.

I remember my parents kept cool

under this tree as they talked

of their grandson, remember

the scene, even remember them

spitting black seeds as they sat.

That was last summer.

This summer, I do not know,

this summer, how they will spend their time.






If you think

if you think

once this house

falls down

falls down

our story

will now will now

be over be over

you and I you and I

like new like new

will start to live

you   are   wrong

you   are   wrong



At the water’s edge


Dusk approaches.   Thousands of cold crows

gather above the lake.  The temperature drops

to the top of a nearby hill,  the sunset in the west

vanishing in the shrubbery.


At the water’s edge, I sing in a low voice,

imagine lapping the water with my tongue

until stars appear, and the words of the song,

and the lines of tears.





Face to east

and nose to west


The palm of the hand

kicked out like a roof tile


The nails shear

the blood vessels of the earth


I lie down

dive into the rivers


And appear swiftly

at the head of the mountains



Poem about fish


I like to think of  cars as words.

It's easy to change the roots of words.

Make a U-turn, for example,

and you will find an adjective.

People bump into each other on the freeway

sometimes creating totally new sentences.

If you drive a car into the Pacific

the sea water will know how to refine it.

When you swim out of the car you will

instantly come across a poem about fish.






Cai Tianxin, born in 1963, is a Chinese poet and a mathematician. He received his PhD in number theory from Shandong University in 1987. He has published 30 books of poetry, essays, travelogues, photograph and biographies. In 1995, he founded the poetry review, Apollinaire, which is considered among the important underground magazines in China. Cai has translated into Chinese the works of Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Octavio Paz, Antonio Porchia, Elizabeth Bishop, Margaret Atwood, and others. His poems has been translated into more than 20 languages, with books published in English, French, Spanish, Korean, Croatian, Bosnia, Armenia and Turkish. He also holds photo exhibition in more that 10 cities in China and USA. He has participated in numerous poetry festivals and has travelled to more than 100 countries. A Chinese poet says of him, “Cai is a writer who is shaped by the distance he travels … His distances are metaphysical.” Cai Tianxin lives in Hangzhou where he is a professor of mathematics at Zhejiang University.















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