“Take up the White Man’s burden— / Send forth the best ye breed— / Go bind your sons to exile / To serve your captives’ need,” starts Rudyard Kipling’s notorious poem of American expansionism in the Philippines, “The White Man’s Burden”. Those lines will ring familiar to many, particularly those who have received an education in the United States—so widely has the poem become emblematic of American imperialism and the “civilizing mission” during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Can Xue’s experimental novella Mystery Train opens in total darkness: a chicken-farm employee named Scratch wakes up to find himself “in one of [the] pitch-dark sleeper cars” of a train. Confused, Scratch gets out of bed and looks at his wrist to check the time, but is unable to make out the face of his watch at all. In fact, Scratch peers around the cabin and can’t “see a thing.” He tries to recall the events that brought him to this place, but even that eludes him. As he racks his brain, a single “dim, pre-sleep memory” forms—and at that, the story slowly starts to unfold.

One of the first poems in Wang Yin’s recent collection, A Summer Day in the Company of Ghosts, finds the Chinese poet in an unexpected place: Vermont. “The Task of the Poet, Written in Vermont After Robert Bly” opens with a pastoral scene on a front lawn, where the poet peacefully observes—and records—the sights and sensations of a slow suburban morning.