‘Vertical Motion’ by Can Xue tr. Karen Gernant & Chen Zeping

“I was a little critter submerged in the desert.” The narrating critter – described in passing as an “insect”, but, to me, more of a spindly kind of mole – lives in darkness underground, among other smooth, wiggling creatures. She/he/it starts digging up towards the surface, driven by a species legend about an elder who dug upwards and disappeared. Humans on the surface are mentioned, but I don’t take this story as human allegory. Instead, I believe completely in the narrator’s “critter consciousness”. Why is it so delightful, this dark and wriggling world of creatures with beaks and atrophied fingers? I don’t know, but there’s something fantastic about the narrator whose consciousness treads the border between animal and human (“Hidden in me now was an obscure plan that even I couldn’t explain”) and who can’t help but burst up, fearfully, through layers of soil and sand toward the light.

Collected in Vertical Motion, Open Letter, 2011. Available to read online at The White Review here

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