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Updated: Feb 19, 2023

Forenote: This is an experimental piece intended to infuse the vividly artistic and abstract style of ancient Chinese text into English language. Both as writers and readers, it’s often incredibly easy to be caught in the logical meaning of a string of words put together, instead of looking for the emotional landscape these words elicit. Hence, this short prose was first written in Chinese, then translated word by word - with the hopes that the slight disorientation urges the need to understand the story through feeling rather than the chronological interpretation of letters on a page.


(fireworks - prose)

Dusk dyes close the corners of the world, the sky fades into deep-end. Long winds curl the earth, and the Moon lies clouded and wordless.

Snow drifts in unbounded emptiness, thawing the plum blossoms beneath parlor steps. In the depth of the alley, your slender silhouette lovingly floats - paper umbrella in hand, admiring winter’s fireworks.

A hundred thousand troops on horseback, blood-soaked districts and sunken shoal. Yet, a smile over the shoulder from you, and immortalized prosperity crumbles at your feet. Stepping over the pitter-patter of moss-grown rocks, under the flood of the night, you take my hand and retrace a thousand years of time and light.

Far nostalgia of the then years, where returning dreams made rings around the bath house, shadows stood and fireworks exploded wherever you went. You sang for the city, turned your eyes and whispered homesickness to the strings of the pipa. Under a sky like this, a decade of flightless slaughter is no more than a stroke of verdant green for the history books. Candle sets the jade screen alight - your face opens in smile and the ink on your brush burns to an end.

Tossing up your bamboo hairpin, I wondered if you were the empress of the world. Even in the midst of contemplation, tearfall is nothing further than a moment’s splinter. By the time I turned, falling snow had bled into gray hair.

Full moon breaks dawn, illuminates the smudge of carmine sand between your brows. Unsung stories with no one to pass on, a dream of gold at the end of estrangement. Beneath the blade, plum blossoms fall like broken snow, and the streetlights fade into your eyes. Lake glow and water tinge coalesce on the strings. You play softly - of sunset years.

The city lay in ruin, and the people bury their heroes. At the end of your life, refasten your hairband and repaint your carmine sand. Drain your tea in one swallow. Only then you know, life is just a dream.

Return to reality. Fireworks tear through snow, soar towards the brink of heaven, dissolving as silk looms do. The light of fireglow masks the long untended-to breakbone flowers. Moon shines on the courtyard, yet it will never find your clement smile again.

Set foot towards the end. Turn of the head, and the only thing I see: A fading laugh, a song of yanhua.

- Lily Shen

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