Between Strangers

Yi Lei

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Stranger, who can measure the distance between us?

Distance is the rumor of a never-before-seen sea.

Distance the width of a layer of dust.

Maybe we need only strike a match

for my world to flicker in your sky,

Visible finally, and eye-to-eye.

Breachable, finally, the border between us.

What if we touched? What then?

Would something in us hum an old familiar song? 

Maybe then our feet would wear a path back and forth

between our lives, like houses in neighboring lots.

Would you give me what I lack? Your winter coat,

Your favorite battered pot? Logic warns: unlikely.

History tells me to guard my distance

When I pass you on the street, and I obey.

But—to stumble into you, or you into me—

Wouldn’t it be sweet? In reality,

 

I keep to myself. You keep to you. We have nothing

To rue. So why does remorse rise almost to my brim,

And also in you?

Yi Lei "Between Strangers" translated by Tracy K. Smith and Changtai Bi from My Name Will Grow Wide Like a Tree. Copyright © 2010 by Yi Lei. English Translation Copyright © 2020 by Tracy K. Smith and Changtai Bi. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

Source: My Name Will Grow Wide Like a Tree (Graywolf Press, 2020)