Against this background I recalled the death of the Vietnamese poet Nguyen Chi Thien a week earlier on Oct 2. After reading about Thien’s life, I had to read his verse at this session as an antidote to Mo Yan. A short introduction is in order and I will use his own words as far as possible.
Now that I, tying thy glass mask tightly,
May gaze thro' these faint smokes curling whitely,
As thou pliest thy trade in this devil's-smithy--
Which is the poison to poison her, prithee?
He is with her; and they know that I know
Where they are, what they do: they believe my tears flow
While they laughing, laugh at me, at me fled to the drear
Empty church, to pray God in, for them! -- I am here.
Grind away, moisten and mash up thy paste,
Pound at thy powder, -- I am not in haste!
Better sit thus, and observe thy strange things,
Than go where men wait me and dance at the King's.
That in the mortar -- you call it a gum?
Ah, the brave tree whence such gold oozings come!
And yonder soft phial, the exquisite blue,
Sure to taste sweetly, -- is that poison too?
Had I but all of them, thee and thy treasures,
What a wild crowd of invisible pleasures!
To carry pure death in an earring, a casket,
A signet, a fan-mount, a filigree-basket!
Soon, at the King's, a mere lozenge to give
And Pauline should have just thirty minutes to live!
But to light a pastille, and Elise, with her head
And her breast and her arms and her hands, should drop dead!
Quick -- is it finished? The colour's too grim!
Why not soft like the phial's, enticing and dim?
Let it brighten her drink, let her turn it and stir,
And try it and taste, ere she fix and prefer!
What a drop! She's not little, no minion like me--
That's why she ensnared him: this never will free
The soul from those masculine eyes, -- say, 'no!'
To that pulse's magnificent come-and-go.
For only last night, as they whispered, I brought
My own eyes to bear on her so, that I thought
Could I keep them one half minute fixed, she would fall,
Shrivelled; she fell not; yet this does it all!
Not that I bid you spare her the pain!
Let death be felt and the proof remain;
Brand, burn up, bite into its grace--
He is sure to remember her dying face!
Is it done? Take my mask off! Nay, be not morose
It kills her, and this prevents seeing it close:
The delicate droplet, my whole fortune's fee--
If it hurts her, beside, can it ever hurt me?
Now, take all my jewels, gorge gold to your fill,
You may kiss me, old man, on my mouth if you will!
But brush this dust off me, lest horror it brings
Ere I know it -- next moment I dance at the King's!
And in her Haire, as Jewels, hang each Star,
Her Garments made of pure Bright watchet Skie,
The Zodiack round her Wast those Garments tye.
The Polar Circles are Bracelets for each Wrist,
The Planets round about her Neck do twist.
The Gold, and Silver Mines, Shoes for her Feet,
And for her Garters, are soft Flowers sweet.
Her Stockings are of Grasse, that's fresh, and green,
And Rainbow Ribbons many Colours in.
The Powder for her Haire is Milk-white Snow,
And when she combes her Locks, the Windes do blow.
Light, a thin Veile doth hang upon her Face,
Through which her Creatures see in every place.
you and I went our separate ways
Only one thing I never quite understood
when you and I said goodbye
and our house was sold.
Some empty vessels lay outside
in the courtyard
staring at us.
Others lay overturned,
hiding their faces.
A wilted creeper
climbed down the door,
perhaps complaining to us
or to the water tap
about the lack of water.
All these are now mere memories.
I only remember
who entered our empty room
for some unknown reason.
And the door was locked
on the outside.
Three days later
when the deal was clinched
our house was sold.
We exchanged the keys for money.
The new owner
was shown each room.
And in one of the rooms we found
the corpse of that dog.
I have never heard that dog bark.
I only remember the smell of its corpse.
That smell still haunts me:
it returns from everything I touch.
(Translated from Punjabi by the poet herself)