Invisible Walls, Whose Walls?

Where are we going
Smoke is curling
Galaxies, fossils, modern living
Streets and cities footsteps thronging
Stars arranged in rows of buttons
Gravesites chewing streams of people
Phosphor spittle rinsing memories
Treeroots, grassroots touch the sunlight
Lao Tzu, Confucius, one after the other
Wandering soul in lonely craniums
Five thousand years beating diamond grains
An earthworm a pendulum going through back and forth
Empty shell
Crackling universe
The city’s sharp teeth
Abacus moved so quickly by whom
Crowded earth like a flood
Crowded and crowded again
Wind’s soft fingers flicking tree boughs
Organ music in the clouds
Doves in the folds of the roof hide their wings
Green bacilli jumping in the remains
Your claws are teasing mother’s nipples
Under wrinkles
Uterus exposed
Universe exploded
Images shattered
Blood stream voyage
Foundering on reefs distant comets
Amniotic fluid with seven duckweeds
Root of life in water and fire burns into one fish after the other
What kind of fish are we then
Why are there no duckweeds for us to repair our roofs on this world
Pale blue flames scorching the heavens
Stars like flies blinking eyes in the bloom of the night
Fu river rubbing the feet of the city
Crows return and hide with the sunset
Fireflies flickering
Amber, the moon and the stars
A box
Of pearls pressed by clouds into marble pillows
Shining hermits
Wings take flight from mother’s breasts
Many fishhooks
Desire controlling lines of time the rod of the mind
Under the bait of life
Long, long necks stretching out from the soil
Mouths pitted against other mouths
Head fish emit psychedelic drugs
Innumerable mothers in labor float down a bottle
Hungry feet stretch out fingers with the kid’s leaky bowls going begging
Lamps, lamps, lamps
Who occupied the everburning lamp that shines on all things
Yellow earth everywhere
So many people
So many boats
Many pairs of soft oars killed by their feathers
Night’s frosty cave
Fallen leaves splashing splinters of jade
Dark snakes build their nests on ancient roofs
Water fowls trample ripples like pearls
Eyes look up and down picking food in the eyelashes
Stepping into the River of Chu and the border of Han
I am looking for flowers in the mist
Our family’s flowers, where do they bloom?
Who cut away the writing at will
On the Temple of Heaven, Temple of Earth
Emperors spinning tops with their whips
“Tied up mouths as the Middle
Whips surrounding as Kingdom”
Misty waves and rolling waters
Sunken ships pile up five thousand years
Reeds blooming, sails billowing, random whistling, pulling the net
Hopping about at the harbour fish market
Stone steps at the ferry crowded with beggars hunting for fleas
We, you, they
So many people, so many mouths, so much blood
Heads flocking in front of the temple
Countless bugs jumping in crotches
Two oval scalpels dismember people rapidly into millions of fish
It is raining
It is raining
Who poured a big pot over the skies
So many people, so many mouths, many underlings
Flood, famine over heaven and earth
Where is King Yu
People are drowning themselves
Living space
Where is their living space
Ruins remain
Ruins of temples and palaces inscribed with laws and color glaze
Only the dead are classless
So many skulls under our shoes in silent protest
Ignored by the living
Harmonica tune comes from afar
Whose little mouth swallowed up
In this world
In the museum’s display cases
Stuffed with rigid ears and eyes
Terracotta warriors phalanx
Sent to battle
Sculpted by the Qin and Han
Skulls are cast with molten lead
So many people
Many contests in a row
Who will reach the goal most slowly
Sun sucking blood out of the earth
Draught, the fields are cracking up
Empty souls in rustling leaves
From the wind the brains go wandering
Some shriveled seeds taking root, sprout and bloom, forming fruits
In the end in harvest’s empty spaces
Waiting to be cast into fire
In the ashes
We are but nursery attendants and arsonists
In the year of
Someone set fire at his own door
Rows and rows of golden crowns
Holding down tear-drenched history records
Gravestones of characters buried alive
Banquets all over
Heaps of bones on plates and bowls
Wipe the night’s impurity
Sun drunk as a fish
Wind meridians
Play on glazed tiles
My old dad
Last night hugging mother drunk and tired in the dregs
Did he try to count the grain
He would need to buy wine
How many baskets of cowries
Facing the heavens
My blazing eyes put out by thunderstorms long ago
To be alive is a wall
Death is the only plasterer
Snowstorms raging in winter
People are still building laws with ice-cubes
Waiting for the sun in spring
Only the sea, ever surging with spirits
Steaming, leaping, ejected, dispersed
Prison van, raising wind, moving clouds
Water forced into rain, into ice, into mist, into fire
Since time immemorial
Who has refused sugar-coated bullets
I only heard many times someone said
That he could
Eat the sugar and hand the bullets back to the bribers
Hemmed in by swamps
We look for wood piles, saws, screws and chains
Gods leaking fluids in their coffin-like statues
Death rippling deep under the skin eroding supports
Oh my helmsman!
Are you still steering my taxi boat paddling back and forth between water and land?
Home is a broken branch going down by the day
Green claws rip up sunlight
Stars go out in your mouth one by one
Bees fly by soft moist pistils
In rubber teats
Art, philosophy, religion mixed in a magic liquid
Ants in a row carry one rotten leaf after the other into their cave
Countless explorers dig out from the hole of that full stop one shiny gold coin after the other
Tablets collapsed
Human heads evolve into squares
Scales shell hairy verdigris covers your vision
Pained eyes reflect blood-dripping holes
Maple leaves sweep autumn shades
Footsteps from afar coming
Who pounds at my study windows
Chains are coming debt collecting
Usury for generations
From our fathers, forefathers
Debt bills flowing in our blood
Down from the peaks of our ancestors
Inheritance is our spring
Whether it is clear or muddy
We can’t change it anymore
No-one can pay back
The debts of his forefathers
Tell me
Who will press out our last drop of blood
Then hand us back to the underworld banks
When we go to our deaths
Who will go to their lives
Go on, take it
My skull is my capital
Where are we going
Where are we going
Oh my god
Your hips are clasping me, it hurts
I cannot move
Heavenly dog eating the moon
Fish heads jump in a row before the rain
Storms crushes the balls of the stars
With one fist I punch out my own eye
Rushing blood in river beds
Warden dressed up as the sun
Walking back and forth outside
Traitors with a million reasons short of one drop of blood
Cheaters with a million features short of one honest look
Tyrants with a million knives short of one human heart
Destiny with a million chances short of one past
The world has always been like this
After aeons
Life is a blank page every time

— Li Bifeng
1992, Sichuan #1 Prison, Nanchong

In 1989, dissident poet Li Bifeng was sentenced to five years in prison for participating in the Tiananmen Square democracy movement. After his release in 1994, he became a labor rights activist. He was arrested in again in 1998 and sentenced to seven years in prison. He was arrested again in 2011 and given 12 years in prison for “contract fraud.” He is currently in Chuanbei Prison in Sichuan province.