Of the Tree and its Four Birds
It is He who is revealed in every face, sought in every sign, gazed upon by every eye, worshipped in every object of worship, and pursued in the unseen and the visible. Not a single one of His creatures can fail to find Him in its primordial and original nature. -Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi Ibn 'Arabi-or Abu 'Abd Allah Muhammad ibn al-Arabi at-Tâ'i al-Hâtimi, also called Muhyiddin, the Revivifier of the Faith-was born in 1165 C.E. in the city of Murcia in Muslim...
“O, giver of life”
O, Giver of Life, you write with flowers, you give color with song, you make shade with song, for those who must live on earth. Later, you will destroy the eagles, the tigers for here on earth we live only in your book of paintings. With black ink, you will obliterate what was brotherhood, community, nobility. Your shadow falls on those who must live on earth. Romances de los señores de Nueva España fol. 35 In Nahuatl, eagles and tigers...
The Oracles of the Virgin
Music is the art which is most nigh to tears and memory.--Oscar Wilde Buried inside us were the sounds of the words our parents managed to utter in the moment of intercourse before they fell silent at the wonder of budding life. Buried inside us were the sounds of the songs we heard in the cradle before our mothers had forgotten the oracles of the Virgin. Buried inside us were the sounds of the grinding of bones that blossomed as the...
What Is a Translator’s True Calling?
To begin answering one riddle, you first have to consider another. In this case, the riddling starts with me, a translator, and a story I have translated into English from a story Indian author Vijay Dan Detha wrote in Hindi from a version he wrote in Rajasthani which was inspired by a Rajasthani folktale he heard from a neighbor. I call my version of the story "A True Calling," after Detha's Hindi title "Rijak ki Maryada," after an oral version that by tradition has no formal title....
Arm Wrestling in Chebachinsk
Grandfather was very strong. When he was working in the kitchen garden or whittling spade handles (for relaxation, he would always whittle handles-there were enough of them piled in a corner of the barn to last us for decades), dressed in his faded shirt with the sleeves rolled up high, Anton would say to himself something like "The rounded bulges of his muscles rolled up and down his arm under the skin" (Anton was fond of expressing things in bookish style). But even now, when Grandfather...
Fragments from the year 1989
. . . Mute, my head covered, I stand with a pebble on my lips in front of a wall of fire and oblivion counted among the helpers of death . . . Take the ash from me, take the weight from me it's not my fault, let me carry to the other shore of the wound: penitence, pity . . . Dawn, the color of the Seine, color of wormwood and gall
Save Me, Guide Me
Save me, shield me, faithful journey, from my own lies and from our era. Protect me, you, Angel and Guardian, but you, White Cloud, guide me. Keep me from thunder, hurricane, immaculate truth, give me light. Don't overlook me, little dove, when you send us a sign from the heights. Forgive me, twilight, don't pierce me, spear of nightmares. Don't bless me with madness, wake me, morning star.
A Dove in the Distance
A dove in the distance fluttered, flitting through the forest— unable to recover she flew up, flustered, hovering, circling round her lover. She’d thought the thousand years to the Time of the End about to come and was confounded in her designs, and tormented by her lover, over the years was parted from Him—her soul descending...
Why is my beloved so haughty, and why is He so angry with me? Before Him why do I shake like a reed? He's forgotten how I walked in the wilderness after Him—and doesn't respond, though I plead. If He kills me still I will trust in Him. If He hides His face, to His goodness I'll turn. The Lord's favor to His servant will not alter— for how could the finest gold go dim? © Peter Cole. From The...
In the Mountains, Sent to Ch’an Brothers and Sisters
Dharma companions filling mountains, a sangha1 forms of itself: chanting, sitting ch'an2 stillness. Looking out from distant city walls, people see only white clouds. 1A community of Buddhist practitioners. 2Ch'an is the Chinese translation of dhyana, Sanskrit for "sitting meditation." The Ch'an (Zen) Buddhist sect takes that name because it focuses so resolutely on sitting meditation. From Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China, forthcoming...
In Reply to Su, Who Visited My WheelRim River Hermitage When I Wasn’t There to Welcome Him
I live humbly near the canyon's mouth where stately trees ring village ruins. When you came on twisted rocky paths, who welcomed you at my mountain gate? Fishing boats frozen into icy shallows, hunting fires out across cold headlands, and in all this quiet beyond white clouds, wild gibbons heard among distant bells. From Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China, forthcoming from New Directions.
Mourning Yin Yao
Returning you to StoneTower Mountain, we bid farewell among ash-green pine and cyprus, then return home. Of your bones, now buried white cloud, this much remains forever: streams cascading empty toward human realms. From Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China, forthcoming from New Directions.
Adrift on the Lake
Autumn sky illuminates itself all empty distances away toward far human realms, cranes off horizons of sand tracing its clarity into mountains beyond clouds. Crystalline waters quiet settling night. Moonlight leaving idleness everywhere ablaze, I trust myself to this lone paddle, this calm on and on, no return in sight. From Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China, forthcoming from New Directions.
On Returning to WheelRim River
At the canyon's mouth, a far-off bell stirs. Woodcutters and fishermen scarcer still, sunset distant in these distant mountains, I verge on white clouds, returning alone. Frail water-chestnut vines never settle, and light cottonwood blossoms fly easily. Spring grass coloring the east ridge, all ravaged promise, I close my bramble gate. From Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China, forthcoming from New Directions.
In Reply to Vice-Magistrate Chang
In these twilight years, I love tranquility alone. Mind free of our ten thousand affairs, self-regard free of all those grand schemes, I return to my old forest, knowing empty. Soon mountain moonlight plays my ch'in.* Pine winds loosen my robes. Explain this inner pattern behind failure and success? Fishing song carries into shoreline depths. *The ch'in is the ancient stringed instrument that Chinese poets used to accompany the chanting of their poems...
I don't look over my shoulder, no idea where I'm going and not an ounce of fear, falling like fluff from an eiderdown quilt and piercing the afternoon air, real as an hour of solitude or the fragrance of a certain herb: my wounds are healed over and all five senses in sync, harmonized to the birds and the sky, the grimy wall of an underpass with graffiti scratched in a child's hand, announcing I was here. But not only here, my lord, as you know, I go where you want...