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The Treasure Seeker asks the mariners to count the number of spindrifts along the shore where we have landed—

One, two, three, four, eight, sixty-four, eighty-four thousand—

as incalculable as the grains of sand in the Ganges.

In the log is written “Winter Solstice, 1900.”

Off in the distance, three boats and eight rafts, rising and falling on the waves.

On the surface of the water, the declining sun paints a thick crimson reflection.

Suddenly, the dense wandering clouds transform into layer upon layer of mountain silhouettes.

In an instant, the scintillating light riding the waves gives way to the reflection of the moon,

as the waves pounding on the sandy shore go from deep red to milky white.



Among the billowing waves

there appears to be a motionless blue whale;

in a moment, the setting sun becomes a golden drum descending into the ocean depths.

This year, in these waters, on the night of the Summer Solstice

the cloud-adorned sky is unusually bright and effulgent,

as the blue-green water sinks ever deeper.

Having no harbor in which to take shelter,

we land on this shore of silvery water and golden sand, resembling an open umbrella.



Under the moonlight, the glimmering ocean reflects a splendid scene;

a fine and hazy mist shrouding this living water-mirror.

As the rows of whitecaps pulsate in the wind,

a mysterious song arises from within the surging tide:

“Kunshen, Kunshen, a spirit deep asleep for a thousand years,

the beautiful goddess of these waters

who will never forsake us.

Resplendent as the North Star,

the embodiment of beauty in this new era. Our fate is in your hands.”



This shoal is like an hourglass turned on its side,

its umbrella like the leeward face of a sail.

In the pure and bright moonlight is hidden the water-sky,

the abode of myriads of things.

The flowing tide, forever pursuing the moonlight;

moonlight settling on the canopy stretched out over a fishing boat.

All of a sudden, the sound of a drop of water plunging into the water-sky,

sending forth spindrifts in all directions.



Just after dawn,

I stand at the juncture of the golden sands and silvery sea,

as the enormous sun swallows the moon,

as golden waves stir silvery billows.

See those spindrifts,

each as animated as the next;

endless waves, surging waters.

A ship heads out towards some bright point in the distance,

as three layers of clouds emit three shades of light,

and a mysterious plume of light appears on the sea.

Standing on the shoal, rising up like an umbrella,

I see a stringless bow shoot off a headless arrow.



You, the beautiful Kunshen Maiden, are everything.

Oh embodiment of beauty in this new era,

our fate is in your hands.

Here, there is no ancient civilization;

just new life coming and going.

See the profoundly quiet golden sand

racing through this silvery sea, this bejeweled mirror.

See the billowing waves coming and going

along the length and breadth of this umbrella-shoal.

Kunshen Kunshen, beautiful Kunshen,

changes grains of new sand each and every day,

changes new clothing of water each and every day.



See the bright, mirrorlike ocean

subtly transforming the azure-blue water-sky

into a dark shade of green.

At noon, as the swelling tide licks my toes,

I lightly stroke the surface of the water with my fingers,

tender, fine, and glossy.

See that thunder off in the distance cleaving asunder the vault of the sky,

as magical arrays of light appear on this water plaited with innumerable waves.

A fiery liquid

courses through the gullies on the shoal.

In an instant, the Lanhai is launched back out to sea.

The crew has already set the sails into the wind and pulled in the anchor.

On the umbrella-top of the shoal the mariners have found

a mysterious waxy glob, huge and misshapen.

It turns out to be the whales’ pearl, a chunk of gold floating on the sea,

a mysterious substance spits up from the mouth of a whale—ambergris.



Afternoon waves,

white reduplicating white;

on the horizon layer upon layer of green and azure blue.

As the sprightly spindrift dances happily, the Treasure Seeker says to the mariners:

“These waters are full of innumerable hidden treasures. All the same, it’s time to set sail.”

In a moment, sails move as swift as the wind.

See the sparkling flashes of naked blades

fencing within the shadows of a thousand waves,

as a stream of pure white pierces the azure surface of the water.

The whirling billows invert heaven and earth,

as the wind blows eastwards, towards a great hazy light.

See those 53 mysterious good friends on the Lanhai,

drifting past those two distant mountains rising up above the sea of clouds.

Waisanding, a sand bar, as beautiful as a shapely woman.

See the first rays of sunlight pulling up a supernatural red rope from the bottom of the sea,

as the Treasure Seeker predicts
that something good is going to happen on these golden sands and silvery sea.
Kunshen, Kunshen, oh beautiful Kunshen,
soon a youth with a black bow will come to keep you company,
and a merman will come and be your guest.


You, the beautiful Kunshen Maiden, are everything.
Oh embodiment of beauty in this new era,
our fate is in your hands.
On the mast of the elevated Bamboo House
are glimmering beads of sweet dew
stuffed with the rosy clouds filling the sky,
looking lovely and delicious.
This shoal is a world

entirely permeated with the dreams of the fishermen.



Tonight is a special occasion for the fishing families;
everyone goes out on the sea and launches floating lanterns,
praying for blessings, safety, and prosperity.
All sorts of childhood memories
come flooding into the dream realm tonight.
That night thirteen years ago,
waves rolling down a slick wall of water;
tide surging like a watery curtain;
waves curveting like the screen of a waterfall,
mighty currents colliding head-on.


Suddenly, the rudders of all the boats lose their force,
the resplendent whitecaps instantly swallow up the blue water.

Then there was that dreamlike and trackless moonshadow;
wave wrestling with the tide;
billow sparring with the wave;
a mass of dancing waters gracefully mounting the shoreline and vying to touch the sky;
bursts of wind and rain arresting the waves around the edges;
sheet after sheet of water hurrying back home against the incoming waves,
gradually enticed by the centrifugal force,
out of the sea and into rivers and lakes.
The incessant rumbling of the waves
vigorously agitating this body of water.
Dense clouds delimiting a vast piece of sky,
as force-17 gusts

roar and howl.

Waves connected into 13 layers,
each layer barring a means of escape.
A contest at any moment,
waves endlessly pursuing waves,
all having forgotten their way back home.
The fleeing masses of foam
become fantastic shooting stars.
An avalanche of whitecaps pounds against an undulating boat,
rafts engulfed by the waves,
twisted out of shape.



Shoal no longer shoal,
already become an hourglass flowing backward

in the countdown of the God of Destruction.

Kunshen is no longer Kunshen, no longer beautiful,
everywhere ravaged and exposed . . .
It was on that night,
that moonless night of rain and thunder,
when vessels coming from afar found no place to harbor;
when all the fishing boats had broken their ropes;
that night of force-19 gales
and pounding rain.

That was the night
when it was so dark that you couldn’t even see your outstretched hand;
when all the fishing boats had their lamps blown out,
enveloped in that frightful abyss of darkness,

darkness so dense that it could barely be penetrated by the flashes of lightning.
In a fit of anger, this body of water suddenly swallowed all the creatures in the sea.



It was on that pitch-black night
that the Merman brought a backward-flowing hourglass,
bringing time back to the eternal moment, bit by bit.
On that night I was in the elevated Bamboo House on the Waisanding sand bar . . .
A thousand fishing boats drifting leisurely under the moonlight,
the water singing its atonal, a cappella song,
some mysterious whirl of gushing
sending forth a resonating symphony of energy.

A thousand sails swaying on this body of water,

setting in motion the waves and billows.

Suddenly, the evening sky kicks up a gale,

sending all the fishing boats still at sea back to the shoal.



At dusk, a migratory bird leaves behind a colorful feather
on the boat 137.
A fisherman picks it up and brings it home for his wife,
who places it in her topknot.
With this her plume,
as splendid as an empress,
she passes 81 years, satisfied and happy.



The Summer Solstice is long gone,
and the typhoons have begun to appear.

Under the blazing sun the wind blows up the waves,

pervasive and vast,
fishing boats hurriedly take up anchor before the thunder and lightning begin.
Ripples of light leave behind lovely images in the clouds,
as the churning foam brings forth the sound of paddles.
The tide comes to the beach and sounds applause,
as the foam sings out from atop the waves.



A thousand boats, a thousand fishermen pulling oars, a thousand voices calling out.
Presently, the sea has three types of moisture: clouds, fog, and dew;
presently, thunder, lightning, and wind mingle in the sky,
even as the setting sun continues to emit its flames.
In an instant, a magical color emerges from behind the clouds,

as a powerful and bitter wind blows.

A thousand sails, a thousand boats leaping over endless waves;

one after another,
raft raft raft oar oar oar;
struggling along in groups of twos and threes;
the hull high and low; the reflection in the water up and down.




See that water-mirror, bright and effulgent;
coated with layer upon layer of fog-like opaqueness—when, and by whose hand, I know not.
In distant waters, a wave is transformed into phoenix feathers fluttering in all directions;
a billow is transformed into a jeweled sword slicing open the azure surface of the water all about.
See this placid body of water, in an instant topped with graceful waves,

endless foam, and innumerable bubbles,

all returning to the state of water; empty, yet full of life.



A golden-yellow kettle drum has appeared on the surface of the water—when, I know not.
At dusk, as usual, the setting sun dazzles the seafarers' vision.
See those watery arrows, newly thrown up, slicing up the placid mirror sea.
Suddenly, a thousand waves cluster together and form a silvery bow,
as the Ferryman uses his pair of oars to lightly rock in the trough in between the waves,
singing out the marvelous song composed by the ripples.
See the Ferryman in between the rising and falling waves,
conjuring up the sound of the tide.
On this great body of water,

there often appears a dreamlike moonlight.



On that night, the force-17 winds
turn into the claws of a demon,
churning up monstrous waves
and tempestuous billows,
launching a surprise attack on the Kunshen Maiden just off the coast.
The outgoing current collides with the incoming waves,
instantly joining forces,
squeezing Kunshen’s cheeks,
forming small dimples.
See the youthful Black Bow opening the scroll of the ocean of dreams.
One moment the fog drifts up into a mist;
one moment the misty fog floats away.



Every scroll is full of the old taste of a primordial memory.
See the Ferryman, that master mariner, dancing with the waves, trifling with the billows,
single-handedly piloting his skiff over the tops of the waves,
suddenly engulfed by a mysterious whirlpool.
Following the mood of the sea, the waves and tide swiftly react;
billows gradually form an arc,
waves rise up to form a peak.
Black Bow transforms into a giant whale,
and transports the skiff of the Ferryman, that master mariner,
onto the Kunshen Maiden.
The surging waves pull each other along;
in an instant, the trough between the tides is transformed.



Here there are 333 houses built by the fishing people,
all made out of moso bamboo from Zhushan.
Homes elevated on stilts, simple yet remarkable,
verandas joined by walkways of halved bamboos doubling as gutters for collecting water.
The Fisher-woman came to the sandbar at the age of 17 pursuing the spindrift,
when all the combination locks had the same number: 037.
The Fisher-woman has never been depressed,
has never been sad.
Your treasure is the happiness of being content with who you are.
See the fisherman, fishing hat blown away by the westerly wind,
fishing shoes swept away by the autumn tide,
beaming smile, all the same.
Praising this world of water and sand,

at dusk the Fisher-woman likes to sit alone and contemplate the setting sun,
imagining that the golden drum remains fixed in the sky,
never sinking into the sea.
See the evening breeze shuttling between the waves,
several colorful clouds brought in and set in place by the wind.
Golden sand and silvery sea under brilliant rays of red,
supporting a mysterious umbrella.
The verandas of the elevated bamboo houses are connected to an elevated walkway,
linking up the 333 homes into one big family.



Today at dusk,
the Fisher-woman visualizes the setting sun to be a glowing ball of fire.
A Volaticotherium antiquus1 flew onto the shoal—I know not when—
and devoured the fish caught with much toil.
Here on the shoal there are no outside authorities,
apart from heaven and the ancient sage-kings Yao and Shun.
In this sandy world,
the Volaticotherium antiquus gets its fill.
It’s said that tomorrow the Peach Blossom Sister is coming to visit the Fisher-woman;
the ferryman is beside himself with joy,
telling everyone he meets, “Right early in the mornin’ I’m goin’ over to the Lagoon at Haomeiliao to pick ‘er up.”



That night, under a starry sky, the Fisher-woman lights a lamp to honor the Big Dipper,
lights incense, beseeching the Water God for calm waters tomorrow,
lighting incense and supplicating the Sea God to prop up the clouds skysail
and provide the Ferryman, that master mariner, with favorable winds.
Instantly, the Lanhai begins to settle down,
several clouds appear in the sky,
the water once again lucid and calm.
The subtle abilities of the fishing folk are beyond the ken of most people.
See the Ferryman’s boat under the moonlight chasing the wind,
nimbly passing over twisting waves, billows, swells,
rakishly gliding into the tidal flats.
The boat of the Ferryman is a family heirloom.



Although its hull has seen better days,
it’s said that the oar rack
was fashioned by Luban, the patron saint of Chinese craftsmen.
When it was new, a gauzelike membrane was applied to its hull,
making it completely buoyant and unsinkable.
At the center of the boat is a mast
made from an ancient mulberry branch,
supporting the sky,
propping up a canopy.
On clear and calm nights
the Ferryman soars like a kite
over the surface of the water,
a mirror blessed by the Fisher-woman and protected by the Water God and the Sea God.



Tonight in the Bamboo House
the kerosene lamps dispel the darkness;
at the center of the shoal, a large stone drum reverberates,
beaten by the surf of the rising tide.
In the air, there floats something white, foglike; now transparent, now translucent;
in the early morning, the tide recedes, removing the shoal’s watery blanket.
In the inverted dream of the Fisher-woman,
all of a sudden, from out of this sheet of placid water
there comes floating up a parasol made of innumerable diamondlike grains of sand,
hanging upside down in between the sky and the sea.
Small boats chasing large boats,
small waves swallowing large waves.
See the Ferryman hurtling over the sandbanks with all his might, ferrying the Peach Blossom Sister,
her hands tightly gripping the Ferryman’s shoulders,
laughing and shouting,
“Fisher-woman, I’m coming!”



Looking out into the distance, the Fisher-woman observes
boats and rafts briskly gliding through the spindrift amongst the green waves,
the azure sea—limpid, transparent, and empty, yet full of life.
The Peach Blossom Sister says that she will spend the night at the house of the Fisher-woman;
the Ferryman says he will do the same.
On the shores of the shoal,
countless fishing boats come and go,
traversing a secret channel that only the local fishermen know.
See the waves spreading out and coming back;
see the billows dancing about, seeking a sound, wandering about.
Illuminated by the sun, the water-mirror, square or round, big or small,
at times displaying myriads of images,
at times quite blank.
It’s at this time that the Ferryman, the Peach Blossom Sister, and the Fisher-woman
all hear the heartbeat of the sea,
highly subtle and mysterious.

 Yu Hsi
December 30, 2006



Painting by Yi-yi