Chen-ou Liu's Translation Project: First English-Chinese Haiku and Tanka Blog

Saturday, June 25, 2011

La Petite Mort

A short story interspersed with free verse poems and inspired by Krzysztof Kieślowski's A Short Film About Love (Krótki film o miłości 1988)


Monday, February 14, 2005

I AM A SICK MAN … I am a wicked man. A coward. I don’t dare to tell you I like … No … LOVE YOU. Instead, I only watch you through the eyepiece of my telescope. Every night I sleep beside you but wake up alone in my room.


Tuesday, February 15, 2005

As Plato said, “Love is a serious mental disease.” I’ve been afflicted with this disease for six months. I am a sick man.


Thursday, February 17, 2005

Earlier tonight, Mary took me to dinner at the Family Plaza. We sat at a corner table; she took out Joe’s letter and I read it to her. As always, she cried while I read the letter. Unlike me, Joe is lucky to have such a caring mother. I felt guilty that I was in a rush to finish my meal as quickly as possible and return home to watch you. You’re the only one I care for. How could I tell Mary about you? She’s like a mother to me.


Friday, February 18, 2005

I was lucky today. I bought a new telescope which has a telephoto lens. Now, I can zoom in closer on you, watching you closely with my heart and mind.


Saturday, February 19, 2005

Why did you cry? That man did not deserve your love. What does he have? Just a face and a Jaguar. You deserve more than what he can offer you -- a pure heart.


Sunday, February 20, 2005

Around 7pm, I had a heated dispute with Mary, arguing that I couldn’t break my rule to write Joe a letter for her because I needed my fullest attention to study after 7. Yes, I study you with my heart and mind. Surprisingly, Mary scorned me in return, yelling how ungrateful I was. But, I have helped her in writing letters, repairing pipes, dumping garbage, and accompanying her to see her doctors and do grocery shopping on numerous occasions. I am not only her tenant but also her surrogate son, doing almost everything Joe should be doing for her. I just can’t break my rule for her. After 7pm, there is only one thing I should do – study!


Tuesday, February 22, 2005

I zoomed in on you, seeing you moving up and down with slow, circular movements and that man’s hands sliding up from your breasts on to your shoulders and altering your rhythm. I … I couldn’t stand it anymore. I opened my desk, took out a pocket knife, rushed down to the basement parking lot, and found his piercing red Jaguar. I stooped down to plunge the sharp tip of the knife with climactic fierceness into one of tires. It felt good, so I stabbed the others … the second, the third, and then the fourth. Fuck! It felt good.


Thursday, February 25, 2005

Today was my lucky day.

During the office hour, I had the most satisfactory discussion with my American Poetry teacher about Robert Bly’s “leaping poetry,” a poetic form that is rooted in the surrealist tradition. I was literally struck by her insightful comments. Yes, leaping poetry is more than leaping from one image to another. It is first and foremost about images conceived by an animal native to the wild imagination.

After school, on my way home, I accidentally, no … I was DESTINED to encounter you. You are my Calliope. My first leaping poem, Throbbing Agony, is dedicated to you. One day you’ll read it aloud and then put it in that chest where you keep all your treasures.

I must have experienced
la petite mort after Calliope
caressed my secret spots --
enveloped in pleasure
as the grass is wrapped
in dewy green. I am a bard
riding a dragon, flying across time
and space. I can't tell you where --
It is as if I appeared where I am now.


Sunday, February 27, 2005

I had another heated dispute with Mary. I am not her plumber. She could call a plumber to repair her goddammed pipe. I could not break my rule. After 7pm, it’s study time. Period. End of discussion!


Tuesday, March 1, 2005

After reading Throbbing Agony out loud, I became a laughing stock. Almost all of my classmates interpreted my poem as a disguised erotic poem. Some of them touched their private parts as they passed by me. Some female classmates called me Tom Honey in front of me and Tom Horny behind my back. As well, I was slapped in the face by my Poetry teacher’s comment: “Perhaps a pleasant wet dream recalled with the morning light. Such a beautiful sunrise.”
During the class, I tried to explain that although la petite mort, the French expression for "the little death", has been generally used to portray sexual orgasm, it has multi-layered meanings, one of which is the reading pleasure. The late French literary critic Roland Barthes claimed that one should get la petite mort when reading any great literature. But, no one except my poetry study partner, Sarah, paid any attention to my explanation. In her plain look, I saw gentleness and sincerity.


Wednesday, March 2, 2005

Today, my Creative Writing teacher taught us an important novelistic technique -- showing vs. telling. Telling conveys information quickly, and it is used to summarize time periods and events that are not very interesting or important to the story. Showing means creating a scene that dramatizes and draws readers into the story, allowing readers to sink their teeth into it to evoke an experience.
I like his teaching style and enjoy reading course materials. But, right now, my big problem is not showing vs. telling, but WHEN SHOULD I TELL YOU I LOVE YOU.


Thursday, March 3, 2005

After the American Poetry class, Sarah came over to talk with me, merrily saying “I see what you mean with the two parallel uses of la petite mort and the multiple powers of Calliope.” While talking, she looked intensely at me and seemed to look into my soul. At that moment, I found there was an attractive quality about her plain face.

Later this afternoon, I phoned Sarah, asking her a hypothetical question: would a woman accept the love of a physically and financially unfit man? She answered my heart-wrenching question in a Bly-esque manner: “You are looking outward, and that above all you should not do now. There is only one way. Go into yourself." Yes, I can see now. I need to follow my heart and tell you I LOVE YOU.


Sunday, March 6, 2005

You slapped my face, yelling at me, “Are you fucking nuts? How could you do this? You don’t know me, so how can you say you love me? How old are you? Doesn’t your mother tell you how to respect the privacy of other people? You pervert! Come here again and I’m calling the cops!”


Thursday, March 17, 2005

I have avoided talking with Sarah for days. I got into a fist fight with John because he touched his private parts in front of me. Later, I talked back to Mary, shouting at her, “I’m not your plumber, garage dumper, grocery-shopping helper, and God dammed son, Joe.”


Saturday, March 19, 2005

After fighting with that man, you cried for almost an hour. My heart was breaking.


Monday, March 21, 2005

My heart was breaking again.


Tuesday, March 22, 2005

I made peace with Sarah; however, I didn’t tell her what the real reason was that I had been angry with her for weeks. How could I tell her about you?


Wednesday, March 23, 2005

You threw the phone against the wall. Did that man hurt you again?


Saturday, March 26, 2005

That man doesn’t come to your flat as he used to. Did he break up with you? He does not deserve your love. ONLY I can give you what you really need – my heart!


Monday, March 28, 2005

I slipped a poem under your apartment door.

Three weeks apart,
I don't try to remember,
but forgetting is hard.
A lonely apartment thirty meters away.
Tangled thoughts of you,
where can I talk them out?
In a dream tonight,
by the moonlit window
you stood in shadows;
shining tears revealed your face…
Another short day and long night.


Friday, April 1, 2005

I couldn’t believe what I had heard this afternoon. You asked me out on a romantic adventure to Wahata Beach this coming Sunday. This is not an April Fools’ joke! I know that you have discovered the depths of my love for you.


Thursday, April 14, 2005

I got a final notice, which said that I would be flunked if I failed to submit a poem for my make-up mid-term exam. I finished my poem, Calliope and I in Harmonious Rapture, before midnight and emailed it to placate my bitchy teacher.

A choir in the sky,
garden in the sea,
lark in my chest.
An island in our bed,

throbbing agony
caressed by your hand.
Moans and pain
born to your laughter,
raised in your tears.

Time and silence.
Clocks ticking.


Thursday, April 21, 2005

As I passed by John, he gave me a wicked smile and shouted out, “Watch the teeth!” Before I could throw his head against the wall, I was stopped by my teacher. All of my classmates were stunned. Throughout the rest of the day, no one dared to say anything in front of me. Sarah phoned me at night, and I didn’t answer the phone but immersed myself in reading Notes from Underground and The Collector.


Sunday, May 8, 2005

Joe took Mary out to dinner at the Family Plaza and gave her an expensive Mother’s Day gift. I stayed in the room and studied for other mid-term exams. I knew I was on verge of academic dismissal and tried to force myself to care.


Wednesday, March 18, 2005

Clocks ticked,
time did not pass.
The sun rose, then set
in the shadows.
Clocks tick.


Wednesday, June 1, 2005

This afternoon, I was sitting
alone by the window,
looking out at the maple's branches
gracefully swaying in the breeze.
Out of nowhere, I felt
the stab of a memory:
you waving me goodbye.

I balanced
on that memory,
the universe hanging
on the branches.


Thursday, June 16, 2005

Now I am recovered from that sickness and aspire to BE A WRITER. I just emailed my Creative Writing teacher The First Touch of Love as my make-up final exam.



published in Taj Mahal Review, #19, June 2011