207th Bone

Poems by Zhou Li

Translated from the Chinese by Xi Nan.

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A strange story was rife here. A few days before, a tempest-struck vessel had appeared off the town. The hull was parched looking and cracked, the sails rent and bent in a careless, unseamanlike manner, the shrouds tangled and broken. She drifted towards the harbour and was stranded on the sands at the entrance. In the morning the customhouse officers, together with a crowd of idlers, visited her. One only of the crew appeared to have arrived with her. He had got to shore and had walked a few paces towards the town, and then, vanquished by malady and approaching death, had fallen on the inhospitable beach. He was found stiff, his hands clenched and pressed against his breast. His skin, nearly black, his matted hair and bristly beard, were signs of a long-protracted misery. It was whispered that he had died of the plague. No one ventured on board the vessel and strange sights were averred to be seen at night, walking the deck and hanging on the masts and shrouds.

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