Sign up to our mailing list

Issue Two

Yuan Yang


The Silent Cats of Beida Campus, Beijing


In Mid-Autumn week on Beida campus,

I saw gardeners unpack a moving flowerbed

off the back of a three-wheel cart:

red poinsettia, yellow primrose

arranged in pots on the concrete forecourt.


The week before National Day,

These movable gardens bloomed everywhere;

China’s new growth miracle: no roots!

Pots ready to be carted off.


One blue day, the American embassy meters

Say the air is safe for humans,

but to me it tastes dusty. Do you believe

the forecast or your itching throat?


Our teacher at the Chinese centre

points out: here, cats don’t yowl for mates.

The ginger toms of Beida campus

sit stolid in green tufts of grass.

Some groundskeeper collects the strays

and takes them for a vocal snip.


As I cycle past the silent cats

of Beida campus, I wonder what

they would be mewling.






I went to see great-grandma when I was six.

She was living in a house my uncle had made

from soil and straw. It held:

great-grandma, three chickens, and a goose.

Instead of a lightbulb, she sometimes had a spider

sitting on the ceiling with its eyes turned on.

When I complained of its glare,

she’d say that spiders

are cleaners of the air

and should be respected.

We ate and I left.

She asked me to see her

when I was back in China.

I said, I’ll see you soon, I promise.


In Leeds, after my seventh birthday

I was sat on the floor of our hallway,

tying my shoes for school,

when I heard great-grandma had fallen

and her house was now empty.

I didn’t grasp then that promises

could stay unfulfilled

from that frayed sort of forgetting:

the lack of a flight,

an overslept appointment

to Skype a crackling

telephone-line – –




The Woman Who Married the Mountain


Knees of the sea

kick up to the sun:

Granite peaks hold shells in their palms.

A girl picks her way through the moraine:

knots of lichened rock

on balls of her feet –

skin loses its grip, she slips

shock into the mouth of a glacial lake.


She wakes near the banks of a bubbling spring,

a long sleep upstream. Gulps in the tissue-strained air

of the high high peaks; her eyes are stunned

in the snow-glancing sun.

The long reach of the Karakorum

embraces her from all directions.

She makes her glissade down its sleek snow-skin

and finds no crevasse.


She walks back to her old village where

her friends are distraught; but look right through her

and some of the elderly nanas there

speak of a girl who fell in the lake:

She has become a woman, now, they say

She has married the mountain, and we know

The mountain carried her away.

Log In