Lining Up to Pay

Steve Bradbury translating Hsia Yü from the Chinese

Translator’s Note

This is how it is/that’s the way it goes/unilaterally/in all its finality/that’s the way it goes/there’s no catching him now/even if I tried he’s bound to be gone/it shouldn’t be like this/there ought to be a better denouement/O these cities!/always throwing someone in your path/all day long I got my directions wrong/muddled the time/threw my whole day off/no wonder he was first in line to pay/could he be waiting by the door?/this so sucks!/if I’m not simply late/I miss out on it completely/life really sucks!/the part that sucks the most is when you take off after them and come up empty-handed/find yourself wondering how on earth you get into these stupid situations/stuff like this explains why I lie around in bed till noon/explains why I can’t get my sorry ass to sleep/it explains those rhetorical omissions I’m always making/otherwise/ we’d/all/be/mud/duh/ling/through/life/to/get/her/it’s true though that falling on your face like this can be conducive to spiritual growth/helps to build character/not that anyone seems very fired up/very us-versus-them/and where’s the fun in that when supposing there’s a game coming up/everybody gets in line to buy their ticket/someone else comes along cuts in breaking the continuum/that person has still got to say sorry my bad/the thing with lining up to pay is/soon as you have swiped that card you’re gone/never knowing that someone in the line behind you has fallen head over heels/but can’t get up the nerve to speak/cause you know how it goes if you don’t forge ahead full steam you fall hopelessly behind/how nice it would be if we all grew old and gray in the same grocery line/in saying everyone/we’re assuming that we all like trouping about in a gang/though I’d be more than happy/just to be with him/just look at the convergence of items in our shopping carts/doesn’t that suggest that we could live together/isn’t it lovely/though we live in different buildings we eat the same frozen foods/doesn’t that suggest that we have compatible personalities/isn’t it lovely we use the same soap and soap dish/isn’t it lovely to think that if we could cram our apartments together/join ourselves at the waist/certain statistics would rise/other statistics would fall/certain political positions would harden/others grow less hard/isn’t it lovely to know that whenever we went traveling/got the urge to shop/we could share a shopping cart/wouldn’t that be so lovely/so why doesn’t he love me/why doesn’t he know that/there by the door of a grocery store/he could change a certain someone’s life/in the process maybe even change his own/when one object converges with another like this/it’s clearly for the purpose of making something happen/at the moment I wouldn’t be particular as to what that might be/but now he’s paid and gone/and I’m left waiting in the same old spot/only now/thanks to him/the world’s been split in two/halves/and of these two/the relatively gentler/more easily bruised/far more liable to find itself redeemed/and certainly more certain/to think itself more capable of loving half/without a doubt/belongs to me/I am that half

Steve Bradbury’s poems, essays, and translations have appeared in Jacket Magazine, Poetry International, Raritan, Sub-Tropics, and elsewhere. A recipient of the PEN translation fund grant and the BILTC translation residency, he is Associate Professor of English at National Central University in Taiwan, where he edits Full Tilt: a journal of East-Asian poetry, translation and the arts.

Hsia Yü (sometimes spelled Xia Yu) is the author and designer of five volumes of ground-breaking verse, most recently, Pink Noise (2007), a bilingual collection of English-language poems and computer-generated Chinese translations printed on crystal clear vinyl in pink and black ink. “Lining Up to Pay” is from her fourth and most popular volume, Salsa (1999), which has gone to seven editions. She lives in Taipei, where she co-founded the avant-garde journal and poetry initiative Poetry Now.

Recording of the original performed by Hsia Yü with music composed by Chen Chien Chi and back up vocals by Waa Wei.