Josh Stenberg is an Asia-based Canadian writer and translator. His writing has been published in the Asia Literary Review, Kartika Review, and Vancouver Review. He has also translated two volumes of Chinese short fiction.
the swan is blackening on the spit.
in the ravening hollow, white tigers
are caught by the toe. we had used
to get together whenever i was in
town. the doctors have drilled into
me through the nose; at their usual
rate. i have made love again to a cipher.
we are establishing vectors of disease. people
are groping for the way out. there are
grounds for suspicion; we are grinding
ourselves into fine white meal. we are
received with open arms. we are guilty by
association. the primary purpose
of language is to communicate. sure,
we are occlusions of meaning. the
masters are busy at the smith. smudges
of blood on the sharp ebony teeth of
the fruit leaves the branch,
oversweetens, is rushed precipitately
from the maritime border to the
centre, to the capital. there it is
ingested, assimilated, its reproduction
spat out. the pericarp sugars the
bloodstream. the warm current washes
out into the ocean. on its wild dissolving
route, the self is absolved. everyone
else does it. people may have to drown
for this alaska crab, this pinch of
saffron, this ten-thousand-li delight
for the palate. all distances are
immoral. food is the densest luxury.
the elderly are crushed by the
ravaging bewildered wagonwheel.
the lines of oil vein and thread us.
the concubine, twelve hundred years
dead, smiles. who is this portly
skeleton? why does she grin?
her yellow teeth skin the flesh off
the hard brown pit.
march 2002, montreal
those things too are becoming long ago.
winter was new to you then. we built
a man of shabby snow. the city to me was
pages in a book, signs of false remembrance.
took you down to watch the frozen saint
and think of the spring crawling north,
icebergs mooning down.
all the people we knew there have left.
and we have left. and what is left?
there are no seasons here, over here.
my students say, what is this tongue,
the same word to remain or to go,
for staying and passing, out, away?
but i say:
who cannot remember is never bereft.