Who I Am

headshot of john haymaker A writer and web programmer with credits for news articles, op-eds, short stories, poetry and Chinese to English translations. I've taught Literature and Composition at American colleges and universities and ESL in the PRC. On the programming front, I've developed data-driven websites and paperless transaction systems while configuring mobile apps and search engines.

pic of John and his partner outside Oz nightclub. pic of Hadji and Eric I now live in Portugal with my partner of twenty-eight (28!) years, Dr. Hadji Doria. When we first met I said, "I don't know if this the right time or not, but . . . ." He interrupted just then to say, "Now is a perfect time." Wow! What a wonderful way to describe now.

Favorite Links

Real Fiction Radio

Banned Thought

The Intercept

World Socialist Website

Who the Fuck is Henry?

World Catalog

Forbidden Stories

Noam Chomsky

Brooklyn Public Library Books Unbanned Initiative

Works in Progress

Beautiful Ornery Dangerous

young man peering through cracked window seeing own reflection

Lewis “Luke” Cook,a motherless young mechanic who rarely considers consequences, loses his job while on parole. At a local diner, he meets up with Jordan Kytte, a twenty-something woman who rarely tells the truth. He’s itching to leave town, and she has a vintage car and could use a mechanic - they click instantly. Inside of two hundred miles their road trip hits a speed bump when a mix-up at a liquor store turns deadly. The rest is beautiful, ornery and dangerous.

Letter to My Brave Face

Coming soon on SwitchGrass Review

mural of face emerging from hood with Portuguese caption reading: We live with ink on our fingertips

The Class Rebellion and Subterfuge

Read online now at Quibble.Lit

pic of misshapen and agitate youths run amok in futuristic surreal setting

Ballads of Blond Elvis

Read online now at Piker Press

Silhouette of smoke-filled stage with keyboard, mics and electrical cords as if the band just left


Read online now at The Bookends Review

Woman seated in train pensively looking out window

The Last Paradise

Chinese translation reprint online now at Bewildering Stories

pic of Asian tiger swimming across river

Making Light of Grandmother's Fire

Read online now at The Bookends Review

time elapsed image of headlights and taillights on trafficulated interstate below a distant fire forest fire

Grasshopper and Tie-breaker

LGBTQIA+ non-fiction online now @ Cosmic Double

silhouette of tai chi performer shadow boxing against red sunset

Papak's Midwinter Kiss

Read online now at Bewildering Stories

graffiti of youths and wolves at rave-bacchanal

Christmas Crime

Read online now at The Yard: Crime Blog

caricature of police with handcuffs and nightsticks posing between Christmas trees adorned with Santa hats

Riders on the Storm

Read online now at The Yard: Crime Blog

pic of highway beneath spooky overcast skies

Missionaries in Love and Letters

Read online Now at Loveletters

pic of rough cut cross in parchment nailed to weathered wood

Two of Us

Read online now at Hawaii Pacific Review

pic of white neon lights crisscrossing glowing red circle overlaid by hot pink down pointing arrow

Izzy's Demise

Read online now at The Yard: Crime Blog

dirty sole of sneaker.

The House, The Lot

Chinese translation online now at Bewildering Stories

Chinese caligraphy projected over and around a Chinese youth

The Legend of Potter's Field

Read online at Bewildering Stories

yellow bulldozer in rustic setting beneath eerie sky

Unleashing the Bull
in the China Shop

Read online at Better than Starbucks

bull runs amok in China shop

The Squeeze

Read online at Flash Fiction Magazine

man carrying suitcoat and fidora in dimly lit tunnel being followed

The Rag Doll and the Siamese

Available at Children, Churches & Daddies Magazine

doll face soiled with garden dirt

Googling a First Love

Read online at Across the Margin

skiff on lake in shadows of a larger vessle

Pickles, Canopic Jars and
a Dirty Martini

Read online at Rosette Maleficarum

silhouette of customers and bartender in icehouse

Dreams out of Bugtussle

Read online at Bull & Cross

rear bumper, fin and tailight of vintage rambler in weeds

Chinese to English Translations

The Last Paradise

Reprint online now at Bewildering Stories: Stalked by a leopard, a terminally ill research scientist stationed in the wilds of south China discusses love, marriage and death with an ex-wife.

silhoutte of man against sunset paddle boarding
Photo Copyright Hadji Doria

The House, The Lot

A construction project on land steeped in tradition sows discord among villagers.

Chinese caligraphy projected over and around a Chinese youth

A Letter from a Distant Place

An editor and his assistant clash over a poetry submission, revealing a subtle difference between fiction and poetry.

postbox covered by wheat-pasted flyers


A Letter from a Distant Place

by Yan Ning

postbox covered by wheat-pasted flyers

Mr. Guo, a young poet of unique poetic form and clever syntax riddled with meaning and rich in contemporary consciousness, was illustrious. Every time he published a poem, the poetry world had to comment, and whether lauded to the heavens or given snorts of contempt, Mr. Guo would be joyous and enter into a gratified state into which the critics' words couldn't trespass. After graduating from the university with a major in Chinese literature, he especially desired to hold a post with the editorial department of a literary magazine and thereby spread the wings of his lofty ambitions, making a free and unfettered flight. But when notice was handed down, Mr. Guo had been assigned to a city paper arts department. This paper had a supplement, "Springtime Flowers," which often published poetry and articles and was quite influential. Mr. Guo always made innumerable submissions, but repeatedly the submissions were rejected, and he would fall to brooding. Recently, he had wanted with impudence to go to the editor of this paper's supplement, intending to mock him. But since romanticizing often leads to compromise, Mr. Guo was forced to go against his will and fulfill the duties of his new post.

Assigned to the director's office, Mr. Guo had a view from a bird cage: this arts department was ostentatious. Its three-room office was furnished with desks, filing cabinets, even desk lamps and electric fans — everything needed and more; but then, he mustn't be encumbered. The office personnel included the Director, Jin Mou, and in charge of short stories, Mr. Wang.

Mr. Wang had a small frame and a follower's face, one might say mediocre and homely. But as to his novelistic talents, although his works were not many, each certainly received good criticism. He was youthful and already happily married. His relationship with Mr. Guo was well established; even at their first meeting it had been like old friends getting together.

Jin Mou, in his fifties, also had a poet's reputation. His poetry, volumes of folk verse, read light on the lips: a concurrence of song lyrics broadening to traditional chants expressing contentment with one's lot. This man managed the submission s to his own liking, clinging obstinately to his own course, already dubbed "Mou's style" and not easily changed. Mr. Guo's own ideas would suffer suppression, though his stubborn pride was ready at all times for confrontation. Jin Mou, however, had a pacific temperament and didn't raise his voice whatever might happen — causing one to be unable to fathom that the atmosphere was charged or that Guo was willing to fight.

Reading manuscripts one day, Mr. Guo came across a collection of poems, "The Barbarian's Rhapsody," and he was so taken by them that his heart quavered. This collection had come from the hand of a youth, yet combined the ancient and modern in one volume, richly profound and powerfully beautiful without losing sincerity. In fact, it compared with the magnificence of the pre-eminent Taiwanese poet, Yu Guang-zhong. To push the new poet's work, Mr. Guo suddenly picked up his pen and wrote an enthusiastic recommendation. He repeatedly talked of this matter with Mr. Wang, who — reserved and not really listening — looked askance at the all-serious Jin Mou and laughed indifferently. This laugh was pregnant with meaning. Mr. Guo harbored considerable anger.

Some days later, Mr. Guo got a letter. Upon opening it, he was greatly surprised. The letter had been written by Jin Mou and ran to a thousand words, a tactful and roundabout rejection of the recommended collection, covering some of the must-notes of modern poetry's arrogance and the danger China's poetics was in, advising caution and thought. Moreover, Jin Mou had drawn up a list of a large number of book titles for Mr. Guo to consult to re-evaluate his thinking. The letter's language was to the utmost placid and genial, just like a close relative's kindness.

Mr. Guo had a youth's irascibility, and as before, jumped ten feet in the air, daring flames. He longed to seek out an argument, but didn't see a trace of Jin Mou. Actually, that man had already retired to the chief editor's office for refuge.

Seeing this furious disposition, Mr. Wang laughed out, "A letter has come from a distant place?"

Mr. Guo stared and said, "Together in the same room, is it worth the trouble to write a letter? Mr. Say A Letter Has Come From A Distant Place has also received this kind of honor?"

Mr. Wang opened a drawer and got out a stack of letters and piled them on top of a table. Without exception, each was equally thick and all were in Jin Mou's handwriting. Noticeably apprehensive, Mr. Wang explained solemnly, "Using a letter to instruct a man is Jin Mou's favorite hobby. If there's a confrontation, he's bound to say, 'At the root of our beliefs lie opinions diametrically opposed. But you may write me a letter.' All of which forces you to be conciliatory and make allowances. This letter, moreover, isn't passed on personally, but one must go to the post office and mail it, causing colleagues to joke, 'A letter has come from a distant place.' Mr. Guo, this is only the beginning. They'll come in the daily mail frequently, in excess of what time allows for."

Mr. Guo noticed the stamp, which had indeed been postmarked in Baimajun, a suburb of the city about ten kilometers from the newspaper office. Each mailing of a letter involved considerable expense and backtracking, but Jin Mou was pleased to take this route, leaving others perplexed despite a hundred reflect ions.

Incensed by this enlightening initiation, Mr. Guo raised his pen and hastily addressed an envelope, then boarded a bus to Baimajun — and though his entire body became saturated with perspiration, by the time he had mailed the letter his pores were unobstructed and he felt refreshed and comfortable.

The next day, Jin Mou arrived for work and first read the incoming mail and manuscripts. Messrs. Guo and Wang kept close watch from the sidelines. When he opened Mr. Guo's letter, there was only the envelope; he could find no letter -- which was not owing to either tiredness or having been at it too long. The two laughed secretly, not daring to make a sound.

But to see Jin Mou carefully regard the handwriting on the envelope, reflect a moment, get out pen and paper and bend over the desk intent and serious, was truly affecting.

Mr. Guo's smile suddenly froze-he couldn't help the melancholy that came over him. As the ancients had said: It's easy to move mountains and rivers, but it's hard to change a person's nature. Such as it is, 'A letter has come from a distant place' will endure over the years. What can be done about it? This poetry is unlike a poem.

Mr. Wang laughed. A story and a poem, in the end, are not the same.

§ § §

Original Chinese text appeared in Chang’an 2 (1987). Reprinted in Xiaoshuo Xuankan 5 (1987).

Chinese to English translation originally appeared in: Pig Iron: Third World No. 15 (1988), ISBN 0-917530-23-3  / Library of Congress Catalogue No. 88-69726

Translated by John Haymaker

Read More:

Chinese to English Translations