First Mountain

First Mountain


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The poet travels from her home in the United States to her ancestral village in Shanxi province to bury the ashes of her paternal grandparents in a ritual lasting several days. The narrative arc of the story movingly explores death and life, a multi-branched and multi-generational clan, and ancient and modern belief systems, as it moves toward a tragic climax. First Mountain is Zhang Er’s third book to be published by Zephyr Press, and includes an introduction about the collaborative process between Zhang Er and Joseph Donahue to render the book into English.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781938890932
Publisher: Zephyr Press
Publication date: 08/28/2018
Pages: 329
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range: 16 Years

About the Author

JOSEPH DONAHUE is an American poet, critic, and editor. Donahue was born in Dallas, Texas and grew up in Lowell, Massachusetts. He attended Dartmouth College for his undergraduate degree, received his doctorate at Columbia University, and lived for many years in New York City. He now resides in Durham, North Carolina, where teaches at Duke University. The third volume in Joseph Donahue's ongoing poem Terra Lucida, entitled Dark Church, was published by Verge Books in 2015. Other recent titles include Red Flash on a Black Field and Dissolves.

Read an Excerpt

PRELUDE (section title)


Turn on a light.

Illumine my dream

with more than just bright

anticipation . . .

a road branches

a window . . .

mountains hang on the wall

maddening, meticulous

Every tree, a bright thread,

every fold, pure silk

pinch of fingers,

a needle

nonetheless we arrive

sky-high village, a century old.

In the yards, hundred year old voices,

and Chinese scholar trees (Sophora)

a hundred year old lotus

demure as a bride's

bound feet . . .

Times held to be dead


but in flames . . .

See, an on-line vagina,

See, internet masturbation

See, severe events and fate await me

blue-grey brick up to sky,

blue-grey stone, paving the yard

long, embroidered sleeves, cambric vest

the trim of the skirt, months of a bride's time . . .

See, a moment, see, a marriage

• f seventy years. Is this the light

of life, is this the sacrament

that lets you live, that

lets you die?

Watch them, the man and the woman.

Each takes the end of a strip of red satin.

A marriage ritual.

Walking down the slope,

walking up the slope.

Kneel down:

Heaven Earth Ghosts Gods

Father Mother


A mountain to the south

devours the light.


• ver the bride's eyes,

a red scarf

Blind yourself to the four directions.

Turn around, turn around

• nly then do you see

in front of the mountain,

the river.


you're turning,

the river is flowing

Old Yard

at dusk:

long shadows,

undesired moods.

We follow Fifth Brother.


Thick wall, high wall, no window,

it would be better to just let go

• f our embarrassing nostalgia . . .


In the photo you're alone

corner of the wall, top of the gate,

like faint characters that are carved in stone

of our delicate ancestors.

Grey-blue bricks, all the way up.

A two story building

two entrances

and a double courtyard.

The light darkens.

Darkness spills from the attics.

There's no light left to skim the pages

• f your fathers well-thumbed preschool book.

Two Brides

Many years have passed.

I can recognize your bones:

bleached face thin like my

husband, bleached face

helping me

buy the train ticket,

saying I've changed,

leading me into a grand hall

is this an occasion for celebration?

It seems to be my wedding (!)

A voice shouts: "Make-up!"

A leopard skin bag

is placed on my head

as if it were a hat

(if this is to be

carried on my shoulder

shouldn't it fit a bit better?)

"Light! camera!"

Dazzle of ceiling light

(you are still the director)

then we see a bride in white

ringed by a crowd and you

you stand next to me

you and you and you

I don't recognize you

I don't recognize

the bright window of morning

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

1. Forward to English readers by Zhang Er

2. Prelude: 9 poems

3. Travel West: 5 poems

4. Into the Home Village: 7 poems

5. The Funeral Procession : 7 poems

6. Round the Tomb: Return on the Third: 20 poems

7. Wu Tai Mountains: 5 poems

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