“Yu Xiuhua’s Moonlight Rests on My Left Palm, translated by Fiona Sze-Lorrain, grows out of highly personal terrain. This farmer-poet says in an essay (Moonlight is sectioned by eight lyrical essays): ‘We have man-handled so many words that I only dream of using them anew.’ Yu says exactly what she means; and Sze-Lorrain honors the feeling and music in intimate translation. Thus, the poet’s language rises out of the natural, tinged by elemental soil and light.”
— Yusef Komunyakaa, author of Everyday Mojo Songs of Earth
“‘Truth once spoken tends to be false,’ writes Yu Xiuhua in her incredible debut of essays and poems. I am smitten with Yu’s powerful writing, erotic poetry, and reflections on disability in daily life. One poem reads, ‘So risky, so heavy / O this love.’ I want nothing but risk in poetry and I feel proud to be a disabled poet in Yu’s company.”
—The Cyborg Jillian Weise, author of Common Cyborg
“I love reading these poems and essays by Yu Xiuhua. I feel befriended by them, by her. Courage, honesty, a love of words, and a wry sense of humor run through the pages of Moonlight Rests on My Left Palm, translated with grace and simplicity by Fiona Sze-Lorrain. When Yu writes in an essay, ‘There is no better ode to life than a weed that grows ruthlessly and arches out of the ground, despite its trauma,’ we know she is telling us her own story. And yet, in a poem called ‘Wheat Has Ripened,’ she says, ‘I am pleased to have landed here / like a sparrow skirting through the sky-blue.’ How can we be anything but grateful to a poet who ends a poem of love lost: ‘I still hope / to err over and over’?”
—Mary Helen Stefaniak, author of The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia
“I couldn’t stop underlining phrases, sentences, whole passages that I wanted to quote, and think about! Yu Xiuhua’s marvelous collection, a hybrid of poetry and poetical essays, each reflecting back on the other, is a transport into the soul, heart, and sensibility of a unique and exquisite mind. Fiona Sze-Lorrain’s translation, generous with silence, space, and pitch-perfect transparency, is a triumph in its own right. This is the sort of book that you’ll want to share immediately with your most thoughtful friend.”
—Minna Zallman Proctor, author of Landslide: True Stories, editor of The Literary Review, and translator of Natalia Ginzburg and Fleur Jaeggy
Moonlight Rests on My Left Palm
Starting with the viral poem “Crossing Half of China to Fuck You,” Yu Xiuhua’s raw collection in Fiona Sze-Lorrain’s translation chronicles her life as a disabled, divorced, single mother in rural China.
Yu Xiuhua was born with cerebral palsy in Hengdian Village in the Hubei Province, in Central China. Unable to attend college, travel, or work the land with her parents, Yu remained home where she could help with housework. Eventually she was forced into an arranged marriage that became abusive. She divorced her husband and moved back in with her parents, taking her son with her.
In defiance of the stigma attached to her disability, her status as a divorced single mother, and as a peasant in rural China, Yu found her voice in poetry. Starting in the late ’90s, her writing became a vehicle with which to explore and share her reflections on homesickness, family and ancestry, the reality of disability in the context of a body’s urges and desires.
Then, Yu’s poem “Crossing Half of China to Fuck You” blew open the doors on the patriarchal and traditionalist world of contemporary Chinese poetry. She became an internet sensation, finding a devoted following among young readers who enthusiastically welcomed her fresh, bold, confessional voice into the literary canon.
Thematically organized, Yu’s essays and poems are in conversation with each other around subjects that include love, nostalgia, mortality, the natural world and writing itself.
FIONA SZE-LORRAIN is a poet, literary translator, editor, and zheng harpist who writes and translates in English, French, Chinese, and occasionally Spanish. The author of four poetry collections, most recently Rain in Plural (2020) and The Ruined Elegance (2016), both from Princeton University Press, she was a finalist for the 2016 Los Angeles Times Book Prize. She has also translated over a dozen books of of contemporary Chinese, French, and American poetry, and was shortlisted for the 2020 Derek Walcott Prize for Poetry and the 2016 Best Translated Book Award. Named a 2019-20 Abigail R. Cohen Fellow at the Columbia Institute for Ideas and Imagination, she lives in Paris.