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Translation Memory, and Your Principle of Reduction? a Poem by Desmond F. X. Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé

“True translation is transparent: it does not obscure the original,

does not stand in its light, but rather allows pure language, as if strengthened

by its own medium, to shine even more fully on the original.”

~ Walter Benjamin

Do you see the rising of air, not wisps, in a swirl.

Do you see my new life after non-breath?

How could you—you weren’t there, you were never there.

That wasn’t a question, I was not asking.

That last statement was as definite a stoppage as the question.

The non-question, like the fourteen lines of a nonce sonnet.

Death, its breathlessness, presents itself as negative space.

Sudden undoing of a life of everything,

that’s the crude expunging.

Do you see the chemistry now,

the oxidation-reduction, how it changes things?

The rusting faucet, even as water still drips from it.

The halved apple and potato, left to their own browning—

how open-faced their bareness,

look at how defeated each surface looks.

Do you see the wildfire, its blaze so incandescent,

it ignites and animates the night sky?


houses and plains burning away,

down to ash and dead earth.

There goes someone’s dossier of lived life,

and every effort to archive

what was precious and important.

You ask yourself years after: what matters?

What mattered, after all?

What matters, as an insistence?

Call it a countermand, an existential reversal of fortune.


Unless, the rescission is but a dismantling

of what didn’t work, the awfulness

and all that bad.

Unless from what’s scrubbed out

comes a clean slate, spotless, saved floor and form.

* This poem was first read at Canberra’s Poetry On The Move 2021, in a featured video recording for Working The Archives.


DESMOND Francis Xavier KON Zhicheng-Mingdé (b. 1971) is the author of an epistolary novel, a quasi-memoir, two lyric essay monographs, four hybrid works, nine poetry collections, and a creative guided journal. The former journalist has edited over twenty-five books and co-produced three audio books, several pro bono for non-profit organizations. Among other accolades, he is the recipient of the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award, Illumination Christian Book Award, National Indie Excellence Book Award, Poetry World Cup, Singapore Literature Prize, two Independent Publisher Book Awards, and four Living Now Book Awards. Desmond is Senior Lecturer of Creative Writing and Publishing at Nanyang Technological University. He can be found at:


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