Five Poems by Yuan Changming

Getting Newly Old (2)

If only I had known pain was to bug me
From head to toe, day and night
Sometimes gnawing at my insides
Other times torturing my bones and muscles  
I would have tried harder to stay young

So young that I can sleep, sit, eat
Walk, run, jump with all the ease
I used to take for granted 

Now, to age is to ache at each stage

Boyhood Buoys (7): How My Light Was Saved  

Every summer, I would be jailed within our straw-thatched cottage
for two weeks, while other fourth- or fifth-graders nake-swam in ponds
monkey-climbed trees, or frog-jumped around the rice fields in the village

both eyes sealed with sticky secretions, I lived in total blindness
day and night, receiving neither treatment by any fellow villager
nor any care from adults in my large fostering household. Years later
I learned it was infection that resulted from eating too much homemade
pepper sauce, often the only dish we had to go with our make-do meals

I never understood why I had to suffer from such hurting blindness
even though I have only one eye actually functioning well in my life
yet I do know it was this hidden fear about eventual loss of vision
That has made me all the more sensitive to light, as well as darkness 

Boyhood Buoys (9): Firewood Gathering

While town folks used electricity in every conceivable
Way, we did not have enough firewood even for cooking
So, I went out with a short scythe, against summer heat
Or winter chills, each time farther away from home
To cut whatever wild plants I could find after school

Once, I cut my own left hand so deep that I
Became horrified as blood gushed out of
My small palm. Of course, the wound
Healed soon enough, but ever since then
I have had a curved middle finger (because of
Bad bandage), a finger that prevented me from
Learning swordsmanship to follow the steps
Of Li Po, a legendary knight and the king of poetry

Boyhood Buoys (11): First Originative Simile

Before each breakfast, in grade five, I would get up
In haste, with a pair of quasi-chopsticks and a pair
Of half-opened eyes, going from cottage to cottage
In the whole village to collect chicken shit, like lost
Gold or silver coins, into a broken basket, something
I could contribute to our commune as fertilizer for

My fostering family. Occasionally, I was lucky
Enough to find a pile of goat or water-buffalo shit

So inspired by these findings that I once could not
Help using it to refer to the anti-revolutionary
Elements in our village when I wrote compositions
In school. Though this simile turned out a big
Laugh stock for the whole school, it was the first
Image I have ever added to our red literary canon 

Boyhood Buoys (12): Local Celebrity 

By playing Hu Chuankuei, a vulgar and stupid
Military commander in a popular Peking opera
I became more famous than our villager head: 
Folks even from neighboring villages could readily
Recognize me and would intimate my voice
Indeed, while other boys in grade seven or eight
Had not enough to eat in their own homes, I could
Earn a couple of extra meals outside our school

However, when I went to the county town to attend
Senior high, my acting career came to a sudden end
Not because of my mother’s intervention (for fear that
My acting was making me into a vulgar and stupid
Student), but because of the trend gone with the wind

It was then that I learned all the lessons about being
A celebrity on the stage, or a nonentity under it

Yuan Changming, 8-time Pushcart nominee and author of 5 chapbooks, grew up in rural China, began to learn English at 19, and published monographs on translation before moving to Canada. With a PhD in English, Yuan currently edits Poetry Pacific with Allen Yuan in Vancouver, and has poetry appearing in Best Canadian Poetry,  BestNewPoemsOnline,  Threepenny Review and 1106 others across 37 countries. Check out his amazing poetry blog at