Streets in Shanghai
by Tomas Tranströmer
Translated by Patty Crane
The white butterfly in the park is being read by many.
I love that cabbage-moth as if it were a fluttering corner of truth itself!
At dawn the running crowds set our quiet planet in motion.
Then the park fills with people. To each one, eight faces polished like jade, for all
situations, to avoid making mistakes.
To each one, there’s also the invisible face reflecting “something you don’t talk about.”
Something that appears in tired moments and is as rank as a gulp of viper schnapps with its long scaly aftertaste.
The carp in the pond move continuously, swimming while they sleep, setting an example for the faithful: always in motion.
It’s midday. Laundry flutters in the gray sea-wind high over the cyclists
who arrive in dense schools. Notice the labrinths on each side!
I’m surrounded by written characters that I can’t interpret, I’m illiterate through and through.
But I’ve paid what I owe and have receipts for everything.
I’ve accumulated so many illegible receipts.
I’m an old tree with withered leaves that hang on and can’t fall to the ground.
And a gust from the sea gets all these receipts rustling.
At dawn the trampling hordes set our quiet planet in motion.
We’re all aboard the street, and it’s as crammed as the deck of a ferry.
Where are we headed? Are there enough teacups? We should consider ourselves lucky
to have made it aboard this street!
It’s a thousand years before the birth of claustrophobia.
Hovering behind each of us who walks here is a cross that wants to catch up with us,
pass us, unite with us.
Something that wants to sneak up on us from behind, put its hands over our eyes and
whisper “Guess who!”
We look almost happy out in the sun, while we bleed to death from wounds we don’t
PHOTO: Nanjing Road In Shanghai, China (May 2012)—the road extends about four miles, making it the world s longest shopping district, with 1M visitors daily. Photo by Songquan Deng, used by permission.
NOTE: Shanghai is one of the four direct-administered municipalities of the People’s Republic of China. With a population of 24.28 million as of 2019, it is the most populous urban area in China and the second most populous city in the world. Shanghai is a global center for finance, technology, innovation, and transportation, and the Port of Shanghai is the world’s busiest container port.