Magazine article World Literature Today

TRANSLATOR'S NOTE: See How She Creates Light

Magazine article World Literature Today

TRANSLATOR'S NOTE: See How She Creates Light

Article excerpt

I was struck by one of the poems Liu Xia released a few days before her husband, Liu Xiaobo, died of cancer as a political prisoner in China. One line in particular hovered in my dreams until one morning I woke up with this translation: "(I wish that I, astonished, would glow) my body / in full bloom of light for you." I wrote it down quickly: my body in full bloom of light for you. Liu Xia foresaw herself saying goodbye to Liu Xiaobo by casting a thousand beams of light as he set off on the "Road to Darkness" alone. I've revised other parts of the poem many times but never changed a word in this: my body / in full bloom of light for you. The Chinese original is actually much shorter, "light blooms" literally, but the action of blooming seems to be repeating like a slow-motion scene. Now that I look at the poem again (in her handwriting), I'm tempted to use "burst into light," but the light initially came to me in the form of flowers as Liu Xia used the verb "bloom," an unusual word for grieving, but it's exactly this word that brought tears to me again and again.

At the sea burial that the whole world watched, the only thing she was allowed to do was to spread flower petals into the sea as if leading the way for Liu Xiaobo's soul to travel in the water. Liu Xia even predicted the sea when she wrote "Story of the Sea" in 1982. So did Liu Xiaobo when he wrote "Facing the Sea Alone" in 1994. Is sea his destiny? In 1986 Liu Xia wrote about being a footnote to someone. She imagined talking with a half-imagined woman by the name of Camille Claudel, an artist she admired whose life got intertwined with hers. And she called her "Stranger" and drank a cup of Chinese liquor with her. Yes, it was a strange role for her to be the wife of a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. "It takes energy to be a long footnote"-they met in 1982, married in 1996. She spent more than half of their time alone when Liu Xiaobo was in prison numerous times, and became his widow in 2017. "What a footnote!"

Equally and even more touching were her black-andwhite photographs entitled Lonely Planets that appeared on the Internet shortly before Liu Xiaobo's tragic death- dark backgrounds with aluminum foil in the shape of balls (i.e., stars). Liu Xiaobo walks in the sky, another world, above us, searching for light and giving us light. To create the light, Liu Xia uses aluminum foil that shines in the dark. In another series of photographs, she has used cloth that absorbs light. "In the shadow, I sew a bedsheet / so clumsily, as if sewing my entire life, / all embedded, / into the bedsheet that can only wrap my body. …

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