Roy Gu ~ Three Poems

The Cat That Eats Copper

When Yang Xin’s mom was preg­nant it was
dur­ing the Family Planning Crash-Down Campaign, and she was given
an abor­tion shot.
Yang Xin had a big life, as they said, and
sur­vived. Only she looked curled up and thin and fam­ished and
didn’t cry. Her grandma
couldn’t stand it and took Xin home to raise her
her­self. Two years lat­er, Xin was
healthy and robust.

Xin grew old­er and start­ed school, where she
fought with boys and nev­er gave in. One day
she and a fat boy were fight­ing over
a bean­bag. The fat boy, of greater
strength and weight, pressed his body
heav­i­ly on her. Xin got a hold of his hair and was
grasp­ing it tight­ly for twen­ty min­utes. The fat boy
gave up, and Xin got the beanbag.

Later she entered a key high school and was
espe­cial­ly good at math. When it was time to
choose a col­lege, she wrote in the appli­ca­tion form
only Beijing uni­ver­si­ties. She said,
I’m going to Beijing and that’s it.

She grad­u­at­ed from col­lege and got into a com­pa­ny where
she was the sales cham­pi­on every month. Next year a new
direc­tor came who was jeal­ous and made difficulties
for her. Xin went to her boss and said,
Me or her, you choose one.
The boss looked embar­rassed. Xin threw
her badge on the table and said,
I’ll go.

She sub­leased her apart­ment, packed, and moved
to Shanghai, where she joined a Series B start-up and was hired
as a senior man­ag­er. Her new boss relied on her and asked
her opin­ion on every­thing. In July, she suddenly
resigned. Everyone was shocked. They asked her and found
that she was going to Columbia University in the fall.

I’m going to New York and that’s it. I’m going to
the best school and that’s it.
I didn’t have the mon­ey. I can go now. Finally.
She said.


The Carp That Never Cries

When Qin Shan was a lit­tle girl, she
trained at the sports school every week. She won
the third prize in the girl’s 3000m race of
her province. And she start­ed, at the age of five, to
play the vio­lin. She was
a mem­ber of the Star and Grass Youth Orchestra,
with whom she went on tours in the Czech Republic and Hungary.

Her moth­er, Liu Yanping, worked for
the Provincial Office of Commerce. In August,
Qin Shan won the Second Prize in a writ­ing competition
held by Juveniles. Liu’s col­league said,
Your daugh­ter is great. Liu said,
She’s no good.

After the mid-term, Qin Shan said she had to
take extra class­es after school. And she
hung out with her friends till
4:30. Liu rushed to the school gate with
two slaps on her daughter’s face.

Qin Shan went to Normal University High School, and
ranked top three in her class. Later she got into
Fudan University. It was National Day Holiday and
they went on a trip. Zhang Hong, her roommate’s
high school class­mate, talked a lot. When they
got back, he start­ed tex­ting her every day, and
she agreed. Two months lat­er, she got
preg­nant. Her child­hood friend
lent her the mon­ey for the surgery. She lay in her
dorm for a week, exhausted.
They broke up. And Qin Shan had been
depressed for over a year, often wak­ing up and
cry­ing dur­ing the night.

Upon grad­u­a­tion, she tried to take the exam for
the Wudaokou Graduate School of Finance. She
was three points away from
admis­sion. Then she got into one of the Big Fours as
an audi­tor. Two years lat­er, she changed to
con­sult­ing. She start­ed train­ing for a marathon last year and
joined the Night Running Club, running
cease­less­ly every day. Late that July there was
a typhoon, and the team leader said
in the group chat, Today’s train­ing is
can­celed. Qin Shan fin­ished it alone, completely


Muddy Rocks on Which Pines Stand

Liu Yingdi was the first one in her coun­ty to go to
a 211 uni­ver­si­ty , they said. In col­lege her professor
asked her to read a pas­sage in English, and when she did, every­one laughed. She wasn’t annoyed.
Every evening she would take a radio downstairs
to lis­ten to BBC News, and repeat
each sen­tence aloud. And that’s how
she picked up the habit. Whenever
the pro­fes­sors spoke any English, she would
repeat it. Her class­mates stared at her, and she
ignored them. In her Maoist Theory Class, everyone
was sit­ting in the back seats. Yingdi would come ear­ly, sit
in the front row, and nod and nod
as the Maoist Theory pro­fes­sor lectured.

When she grad­u­at­ed she passed
the Civil Servants Exam and got into
the Provincial Office of Foreign Affairs. In August, she
accom­pa­nied for­eign guests to visit
a beach park, where she dived into the water
in her under­wear. This
infu­ri­at­ed her Leader, who claimed it to be
a “seri­ous polit­i­cal offence.”

Yingdi changed her job in October and joined
Glory-Success Insurance. After three sea­sons she
ranked sec­ond in sales and was awarded
a trip to Thailand dur­ing Chinese New Year. Later, she joined
Wechat MLM skin­care brand Chi-Chi-An, and soon made herself
a Diamond-Level General Agent. At the Annual Conference, she
gave a speech on stage as a sales super­star. When she
fin­ished, a bunch of girls came for pic­tures. She was
busy eat­ing her lob­ster and said,
Wait a minute, wait a minute.


Roy Gu is Professor of English in the School of English Studies at Shanghai International Studies University. He has pub­lished short sto­ries and poems, and trans­lat­ed sev­er­al books, includ­ing Haizi’s Poems, Love by Toni Morrison, and short sto­ries by Abdulrazak Gurnah, Chinua Achebe, and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. He is also a singer-song­writer and has released folk music albums.