NEA Literature Fellowships

Ye Chun

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(2015 - Poetry)

"The Day of Qu Yuan Drowning"

(Qu Yuan, 332-296 BCE, a court minister, diplomat, and the first known Chinese poet,
drowned himself after seven years in exile.)


They're dotting eyes on the dragon boats.
They're sniffing orchid pouches and balancing raw eggs.

Among blue fish and red cobbles, have you found the word
you'll say again and again till the water turns to cloud?


My father teaches me to make zongzi,
wrapping rice, date-hearted, in a bamboo leaf.


The grasses by the river cast shadows on one another.
Your long sleeves are filled with antitheses.
Your one hundred and seventy questions crowd the water.

The clean-nailed diviner shakes out bamboo slips;
you see them fall.

Is that enough?
Or freckles on an elder's hand, a star chart
on the fifth day of the fifth moon, gods in twilight?


I've been beautiful for you.
The bamboo slips are the last things my eyes made.
I've loved myself. I'm no longer hungry.


We throw zongzi in the river so that fish won't eat you,
our loved one.


The river wraps you tight.
Your stomach calls pure, pure.

(From Lantern Puzzle, published by Tupelo Press, © 2015 Ye Chun. Used with permission.)

Ye Chun (叶春) is the author of two books of poetry, Lantern Puzzle (Tupelo Press, 2015) and Travel over Water (Bitter Oleander Press, 2005), and a novel in Chinese, Peach Tree in the Sea (《海上的桃树, People's Literature Publishing House, 2011). Her translation of Hai Zi's poetry, Ripened Wheat: A Self-Portrait, is forthcoming from the Bitter Oleander Press in fall 2015. She currently serves as the poetry editor of The Missouri Review and teaches at the University of Missouri where she is a PhD candidate.

Photo by Ye Qing

Author's Statement

Like many writers, I find life can be a bit of a juggling act. The NEA grant makes me feel I can finally breathe easier, can afford to put down a few things and take up my writing with both hands. I've been working intermittently on a book about mothers—myself as a mother, my grandmother who raised my mother during wartime, mothers who lost their children when poorly built schools collapsed in the Wenchuan Earthquake, mothers who have little to feed their children but their breast milk…. With this grant, I'll be able to focus on the book! The NEA has my immense gratitude. And I'm deeply grateful to the panelists for selecting my work, and to my family, friends, and fellow writers for celebrating the award with me. It's a rich moment in my life.