(Jennifer’s note: This is a poem by Professor Ai Xiaoming, based on a widely circulated photo of a father waiting for his daughter who died in the flood on July 20 at the Shakou Subway Station in Zhengzhou City, Henan Province in China, with a sign written on a paper board that says “Niu Niu, dad still wants to bike you home.” In Henan province, little girls are often called Niu Niu. Chinese people believe that after people die, their souls/spirits will return to pay a last visit to his/her family members before he/she goes into the next reincarnation. People will prepare food from the dead ones, but will prevent themselves from being seen by the dead, so that the spirits/souls can leave with a carefree heart.)
By Ai Xiaoming, translated from Chinese by Jennifer Zeng
From now on, everybody needs to remember your name
From now on, every drop of rain is a tear
From now on, dad will be waiting for you here every day
From Spring to Summer, from tonight until his hair turns grey
Niu Niu, were you a schoolgirl?
Were you quite independent, did you laugh a lot?
Did you love singing best, or drawing?
Were you wearing a school uniform, or a flowery skirt?
Dad biked here from afar
Dad remembers today is the 7th day [since you left]
On the 7th day, souls [of the dead] return home
Dad is afraid that you’ll be hungry on the way
Dad puts his own meal box in the basket
While Nui Nui’s is hung on the handlebar
Niu Niu’s meal box is so full
And firmly in place
Have a good meal and go on to your next life with a full stomach
Don’t ever look back
Don’t you try to look for dad
Don’t worry that dad will leave
You’ll only be as light as a feather without seeing your dad
Your panic, despair, and suffocation
Leave them all behind
Let dad carry the burden as heavy as a mountain
Oh that man sits there
How long does he plan to sit?
One half of a cardboard box is under him
Written on the other piece is a reunion that cannot be ever missed
I try to finish the sentence
But I just can’t
How strong, or how soft we need to be
To be able to read the words from this dad’s heart
“Niu Niu, Dad Still Wants to
Bike You Home.”
I wish a statue will be built at the entrance of the subway
To carve this nameless father
Don’t let him stand tall like that man who blasted the bunker*
Don’t carve any words from the officials on the base
Just like this, with his head hanging low
A man in a thin waterproof cape
Bent and poor, loyal and sorrowful, speechless
As plain and fragile as the cardboard box on the ground
Like that old-fashioned bike, built before electric motors
Like that bamboo pole that holds up the cardboard sign
Using all its strength to hold up the words
Niu Niu, have you seen the writing of your dad?
I know they call all the little girls Niu Niu in Henan
I know that because one Niu Niu was abandoned
She ended up becoming an Olympic legend for another country **
But I also know that many Niu Niu have such a father
He can’t afford flowers
But he brings his Niu Niu food
Like the mourners who place their flowers there
He puts himself on the ground
As he has to wait for you to come get your meal
He can’t boast like a professor of Peking University
“When dad gets rich, he will buy you an American residency.”
He sits there lonely
Like a stone left behind after the flood
They can cover the view of flowers with a shield***
But how can they block the view of Niu Niu’s Dad?
He sits there
As sad as the air, connecting life and death
From now on, whenever I think of Zhengzhou, I will think of this father
From now on, I can never forget that the subway has taken Niu Niu away
From now on, every rainfall is a farewell
From now on, we’ll witness the waiting of an angel here
From Spring to Summer, from tonight, until his hair turns grey
*“That man who blasted the bunker”: Refers to Dong Cunrui, a CCP soldier who was portrayed as hero for blasting himself together with the enemy’s bunker during the Chinese Civil War.
** “She ended up becoming an Olympics legend for another country”: Refers to Canada’s Maggie MacNeil, who was abandoned by her biological parents in China as a baby, and captured Canada’s first gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on July 26,
*** “You can cover the view of flowers with a shield”: The CCP authorities used a shield to block the view of the flowers at the subway station on July 27, when the public mourned the dead in the July 20 flood in Zhengzhou.
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