Skip to content
Congratulations to 2021 Ottaway Award winner Naveen Kishore! Learn more.
from the August 2019 issue

Perhaps: Love Poems

In these three poems from the collection Perhaps: Love Poems, Tibet-born poet Xi Wa explores her personal Tibetan Buddhist path.

1. Vimalaki Sutra

Simultaneously we sink into May
The scent of the locust tree bloom, the fragrance of enlightenment, falling
upon a single tendril from the vine of language
My seeming frivolity, my carelessness, cannot completely eclipse 
our first encounter, when my heart was brushed atremble. Tangled. Insatiate . . .

Escaping the torrential rain, the mildew and rot beyond the open window
Our intimate conversation
swirls around basic truths, asanas, inner sight, and true nature
Two crystal streams converge in a deep pool . . .
I dare not use mortal eyes to contemplate you
much less my worldly heart to quantify the true meaning of your absolute body
As if I am serving in a temple, receiving the blessing
though my torso, swaying, distills
vague honeyed words, what seems like a test, what seems like an omission, 
and what is diluted by off-the-cuff jokes

Aloeswood and the scent of myrrh, long invisible,
make my May lightheaded, my posture slouch.
Do they arise from your face and lips? Or do they arise from
me, among other Buddhist disciples, diligent yet half aware?
End the longing and waiting of these past years,
Wake up. I draw one foot closer to you, then a bit more
and an unfathomable karmic force
pushes me back to where I began. Causing longing even more longing, waiting even more waiting

Then in this meeting place, I knew 
Vimalakurti: The reason for your sickness is my own, and that of all living beings.

3. Lamplighter Buddha 

Digging open lightning, coal cinders, and other things of false appearance
Lamplighter, You reach straight to my inner heart
the basic root of the thing

As always, I bury myself deep in the dust
head to toe, my root hairs sense you, forgetting you’re already here
in fluid waves of wisdom, you offer this prophecy:

“You shall see . . .You shall be . . . You.”

Vanquishing the basest of happinesses and joys, I bend down
entering the kitchen where, day after day, I pluck and rinse
celery, fennel, bitter chrysanthemum . . . the profusion of leaves, the rot and scars
reordered and removed: delicacies enshrined on a momentarily empty dining room table . . . .

True, I am unable to follow you—Lamplighter

Thus I am dependent on my own finger,* it
preserves the line of my whispers, my spoken and intimate desires, all in worship of you—
your appearance of triumph and “greatness” alone, is sufficient to allow me
to persist, pointlessly, with my petty work in this world of dust

* A reference to the Buddhist analogy of someone mistaking the finger pointing at the moon as the object of regard instead of the light of the moon. It refers to someone mistaking the teachings as the object of regard instead of what they point to: the light of enlightenment. 

7. Amitabha

You say: Look, even the birds preach the Dharma
Lowering my head on a long distance run, in a summer spanning over 60˚ of the earth’s surface*
from the media village to Olympic Park
on a path wide enough to seem like a thoroughfare 
I know what I am facing now: the greatest heat wave in history,
misfortune, distortions of the mind
I hear birds calling,
but I don’t understand their gospel
I see Cymbidium, the “true heart orchid”
Could it be alerting me to an unexpected path
through the many misfortunes of the day?

My ear is grazed by the sound of the wind, grazed by the sounds of singing at the crossroads
“I am struggling, struggling to draw near to you
but before my eyes lies an interminable distance . . . .”

Amida, whether you have already opened yourself to me or not, I need not concern myself or look for proof, 
I must lower my head, undaunted by this long run
I run by things that know me, I run by crowds that don’t
I run along the intersecting lines of an open palm, all the symbols, the distracting thought
And suddenly I am in a trance—your magnificent radiance
on the lone line of my travel, you were with me always, the way a shadow follows form

Amida, your hand holding mine, we head straight toward
this heat wave, misfortune, distortions of the mind . . . to the center
You say: Look, even the birds are preaching the Dharma—
stand apart from worldly things.

*The country of China covers 60˚ of latitude of the earth’s surface.

"维摩诘," "燃灯人," and "阿弥陀" from Perhaps: Love Poems © Xi Wa. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2019 by Chloe Garcia Roberts. All rights reserved.

Read more from the August 2019 issue
Like what you read? Help WWB bring you the best new writing from around the world.