The following two poems are taken from the third issue of PEN America’s translation magazine, Glossolalia, titled, We Agree on Nothing: New Writing from ChinaThese poems, written by Mu Cao, one of the few openly gay poets living and writing in China, were translated for the magazine by Jennifer FeeleyTo read the full issue, purchase a print or digital edition.

Bees and Hymns

Your brain is stuffed with
garbage from books the System crams into you
Since grade school you’ve been mastering songs of praise
—Oh, you busy bees

there’s so much we want to learn from you!

Are you the worker bees gathering nectar?
You’re sexless

like slaves or eunuchs
toiling away to feed that thieving drone
and whorish queen bee

Oh, you mindless stupid asshole worker bees

Quick, use your stingers to sting the grade-school students singing hymns

then learn from the dancing butterfly
learn from the moth that dives into a flame

June 27, 2007


Welcome to the AIDS Village

Have you ever been to Henan?

Have you ever been to Henan’s AIDS Village?

If you’re still alive

You should come check it out

You have to buy a ticket to climb the Great Wall

You have to buy a ticket to climb Mount Tai

If you go to Suzhou or Hangzhou, you have to buy a ticket for every scenic spot
For every national park

To climb or tour or merely take a look

There’s no one selling tickets at Henan’s AIDS Village

Here, the people with AIDS

Outnumber the animals in the Beijing zoo

You just need to find the Beijing-Guangzhou line on a Chinese map
Get off at Zhumadian, and you’ll find it in no time
The AIDS patients here are different from American ones
The women have never turned tricks

The men have never visited prostitutes

They sold their blood to support their kids
And contracted the disease

Just hold the camera naturally

Will you take pictures with AIDS babies?

Will you scoop up a handful of loess

To honor the young peasants who’ve already died?

If you want to cry, then cry

If you want to swear, then swear

But please don’t do what Mr. Wan Yanhai did

He leaked news of China’s secret AIDS outbreak to foreigners
And was detained by the Ministry of State Security for one month

Oh …

Henan’s AIDS Village welcomes you

If you want to come, then come

If you don’t come, no one will blame you

It’s easy to bring your aid here

Even easier than writing an application to join the Party
Henan’s AIDS Village welcomes you

China’s AIDS patients are expecting you

October 30, 2002

Mu Cao was born in 1974 and has published five collections of poetry, largely while working in jobs at the lowest rung of society. He is one of the few openly gay poets living and writing in China, and as such, he is necessarily branded as a kind of dissident, or at the very least, as an outsider. Much of his poetry is dark and expressive of the tense situation in which he finds himself living. The poems featured here are the first of his to be translated into English.

Jennifer Feeley is the co-editor of Simultaneous Worlds: Global Science Fiction Cinema (University of Minnesota Press, 2015) and translator of Not Written Words: Selected Poetry of Xi Xi (Zephyr Press and MCCM Creations, 2016), which World Literature Today named one of the 75 notable translations of 2016. Her publications have appeared or are forthcoming in FIELD, Epiphany, Tinfish, The Taipei Chinese PEN, Pathlight, Chinese Writers on Writing, Journal of Chinese Cinemas, and Creating Across Cultures: Women in the Arts from China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, among others. She holds a PhD in East Asian Languages and Literatures from Yale University.