Old Robot

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Ma Yan’s poem, “Old Robot,” appears in Michigan Quarterly Review’s Summer 2019 issue.


Poetry Editor Katie Willingham writes on first encountering Ma Yan’s poem, “Old Robot:”
When Stephen Nashef first shared his translations of Ma Yan with me, I was immediately struck by her ability to capture the unique world-weariness of young people in poem after poem. Yes, the title here is “Old Robot,” but robots become old so young, don’t they? A more efficient iteration always arriving, rendering current models obsolete. 
I see the fatigue in this piece as a deeply felt refusal to accept how things are. Her refusal to name what wears down, in turn conjures everything, not in its particularity, but in its everything-ness. Fatigue will do that–blunt and flatten–and despite longing for “oil,” Ma Yan also honors the utility of that fatigue. No longer offering opinions, space opens to reflect and refine them. And “just like that,” new thoughts. Each time I read this I’m left wondering how contradictory it is that thinking can be both what wears us out and what rejuvenates us at the same time.


to Wei Tang and Yan Jun
“Just let me hold a third of the universe”

“She’s worn out,
overused.
She needs some oil.”

I say, too right.
I have been worn out.
Please give me some oil.

No longer offering opinions,
still quiet in the quiet.
She has been worn out.

But then, just like that, she thinks of the sea,
and keeps thinking, about the sea,
and, sometimes, about people.

Translated from the Chinese
by Stephen Nashef


Ma Yan’s poem, “Old Robot,” appears in Michigan Quarterly Review‘s Summer 2019 issue, which is available here.