Wheat Seedlings

by Eleanor Goodman, translating from the Chinese by Wang Xiaoni

copyright ©Chinese Copyright © 2014 by Wang Xiaoni / English Translation and Foreword Copyright © 2014 by Eleanor Goodman

On the mountainside field after field of wheat seedlings shiver
the farther up the more they tremble
the mountain will soon shake itself apart.

Spring borrows the wind
to spread a fear of heights even farther.
It seems a transparent weapon is hidden in the heart of the sky
it seems danger wants to drop down and stab us.

There is a bundle of light walking about
the sun is preparing to make the green even greener.
The wheat seedlings ooze bile in fear
one by one the mountaintops connect, light up.

The wheat keeps spreading into the pitch-black towns
the bread steamed on the fire breaks open.
Those who have eaten their fill go outside
to turn up a roiling red clay tail.
The red tail’s human leader also strolls up to the mountaintop
the only thing on earth that seems timid is the wheat.

The green color’s fear is of the hoe.
It’s of the piercing bright blade of the sickle.
And it’s of us, the flour-eaters.

Notes on the Poem

In "Wheat Seedlings", Eleanor Goodman, translating from an original poem in Chinese by Wang Xiaoni, evokes a common emotional reaction in a decidedly uncommon fashion, to unsettling and provocative effect. The reaction is fear and the poem, from the 2015 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted collection Something Crosses My Mind, takes an unusual approach to how it is depicted. The eponymous seedlings are the entities experiencing fear. By anthromorphizing the young plants so vividly, Wang and Goodman are compelling us to consider fear in those for whom we might rarely, if ever, give thought. How that fear is illustrated and manifested is unorthodox, too, referencing elements that would not normally be associated with or would elicit such alarm. "There is a bundle of light walking about the sun is preparing to make the green even greener. The wheat seedlings ooze bile in fear" Light and the colour green usually signify optimism, positive growth, health and the like. Here, they seem menacing. Even as they do signify and produce growth, that vigour too seem threatening, as "The wheat keeps spreading into the pitch-black towns" The bright green and the "roiling red clay" are reminiscent of another poem from this collection that uses colour in a startling way. Remember the "red navel oranges" in "Meeting Death’s Envoy on a Winter Afternoon"? In that poem, the burst of colour did seem to introduce something spirited in the midst of a depressing scenario, but here, the vibrant colours are presented counter-intuitively - again, as things to be feared. Is the brilliant bounty suggested by this poem actually something about which we should be very troubled?

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