WASTELANDS OF FIRE : Poems by Ku Sang
Translated by Brother Anthony, of Taize
Copyright 1989 Brother Anthony
Published by Forest Books (London) 1989 (Forest Books no longer exists)
It is more than
the deep roots of every emotion,
big or small, of every kind,
that squirm and kick like little children
and more than
the deep-sea fish
of six senses and seven sins,
that waves its tail
like a night-time shadow on a window pane
more, too, than
star-dust littering the yards
of Original Sin and Karma,
passing through the obscure darkness of the potter's kiln
and more than
the oasis spring gushing from the desert sand,
melting again into foam and flowing
after filtering through strata of origins and time
with their rustle of dry grass,
and the crack in the glacier, or even exploding particles
more, too, than
the world, itself smaller
than a millet seed
in the cosmic vastnesses
and more than
the ether -- fullness of the boundless void
reaching beyond billions of light years
more, too, than
the substantiality such fullness gives,
and more than its opposing nihility,
more, too, than unknown death
a soundless cosmic shout!
An immensity embracing Eternity!
On the gleaming flank of an age-old rock,
lying like the eggs of some green insect,
fresh green moss is growing.
Is it just an effect of the springtime rain
that germinates the grain?
Or is it a return of infancy
in this centuries-old stone?
Here and now is an inevitable condition
where flowers, fruit,
and leaves too, are useless,
neither winds and rain,
nor thunder and lightning
without distinction of day and night,
and knowing nothing of stench and perfume,
no separation of past, and real,
Within the rock, no flow of filth, but
the brightness of a paper window in the morning sunlight!
In its communion with heaven's vastness,
accepting all the chaos of this world's variety-show,
by simply sitting there in silent meditiation
it stills the ocean's tumult.
"But I am no Aladin's lamp!"
Ah, moss so prudently clinging
to the indifferent rock!
True image of Meditation!
A turnip field on a mountainside.
Around an ancient, springtime-drowzy rock
a single blowfly buzzes.
It comes and goes, all the time,
among old, panlid-like pats of dung
that lie in the grass on the crestward path,
now perching low on the rock's shaded waist,
now squatting high on its sunburned brow,
now moistening itself at the stagnant water
held in deep pits on its rocky crown,
then delicately folding its legs in prayer,
depositing spots of pustular waste
or laying tiny, nit-like eggs,
then flying off to land on a spring chrysanthemum's stamens,
a single red spot in the midst of the turnip field,
and there, like a little boy hypnotized by a cinema screen,
staring down at fields, rivers, roads,
as they stretch out level to the far horizon
and suddenly the world seems all suspended,
like a green, dead body,
a moment without the sound of breathing,
a moment delivered from starvation, disdain and slaughter,
this moment, without curses or conspiring,
and somehow, blowfly, dungfly,
as if for you this stillness
bred a grieving fear,
echoing, your buzzing seems to weep.
Beneath the garden fence,
all round the storage platform,
the rose moss blooms.
With multi-coloured stamens
crowning the soft white stems
they flirt there, posing,
nudging and jostling,
rubbing their cheeks, they bloom.
The water-melon moon
is perched high in the sky;
the night, nearly spent, is moist with dew,
and tiny butterflies come visiting,
no larger than the brooch
on my younger daughter's breast,
they hover lightly over the stamens,
these butterflies, flitting from stamen to stamen
in pollen quest!
Swarms of butterflies, since spring began,
even by night, flying innumerable!
Thus bringing colours to the rainbow flowers
over thousands of years, how huge a task
these tiny things have performed, to be sure!
Behind the shed soft persimmons hang red
which, before autumn came,
would scorch and shrivel your mouth;
on the hill above, the chestnuts, too,
having bristled with spines to keep strangers at bay,
now that the nuts are ripe
and shine ready to fall,
open their mouths of their own accord.
Ah, every creature, every one,
knows the meaning of here, and tomorrow,
and so they live in togetherness,
assisting each other with all their hearts;
so how is it that I, a man, stand here
this night, all alone, like a rotting stick in a fence,
In the orchard white with snow
like sprinkled salt,
a plum tree raises thick black branches
in a victory sign,
outlined with flowers in full bloom,
like an Easter garland.
"Behold, whoever puts his life in me,
even though he dies, will never die;
do not be doubtful
of invisible realities."
Playfully, a single magpie
hops from branch to branch.
Beside a hole gaping
like a cavity in a lung,
stiff as a corpse
an apple tree lies, a full arm's girth.
A man comes by, dark as shade,
with a frame bound upon his back;
he lops the dead branches with an axe,
splits the trunk, and bears it all away.
"Behold, a figure of the dead
who will tomorrow be cast
into perdition's flames;
beware, then, lest the roots of your existence
A crow flies cawing
across the frozen sky.
On the carpet spread in the prison cell,
so large that it fills the whole design,
a golden sunflower blazes.
Beyond the octagonal window
the city surges like ocean waves,
with factory-warships and high-rise steamers,
to say nothing of the slum shack cockle-boats.
In the sky, hovering over the city
as if attached to a cord,
a great black bat flies,
leading her young,
while in the room a naked man,
kneeling, opens wide his mouth,
about to devour a yellow butterfly
caught between his finger and thumb.
In the looking-glass built into one wall
a third man, like the other's reflection,
is dancing open-mouthed
in pursuit of another butterfly
while in the opposite wall a barred window,
edged with sharp knives,
looks out onto a sheer cliff
where a single flower is blooming.
Within this Mystery, my image
is beautifully weeping
towards a light that offers no salvation.
I am two of us inside.
Or maybe rather three.
The I that people see outside,
the I close hidden here inside,
and the unconscious I
that I myself cannot divine,
each I stands apart.
Today again: after a haircut and shave
in a local barber's shop
as the girl was giving me a massage
her hands touched my private parts
and for a moment there was a quarrel
between me wanting to warn her off with a "Don't"
and me hoping her hands would slip that way again.
You can say that this kind of fight
between me and me inside is constant,
but recently one night in a dream
I was with a woman I'd never met
and it's ridiculous but I ejaculated;
who was the I acting there?
Which of these three, then,
is the real or false me,
the good or bad me,
which of them is really me?
The more I wonder the less I know.
And as I reflect this way and that,
I get more and more anxious
about which me will be involved
the day I die and go to be judged.
Today again news came of a friend's death.
Well, we all have to go,
some sooner some later.
I hope my turn comes soon.
Is it fear of the pain before we die
that makes death so threatening?
Surely there is always euthanasia?
But the dread of something after death
makes that a problem too.
The lights and darks of that other world.
While I evoke in this way
the afterlife, my life today
is so much amiss.
Surely, if I am really concerned about the afterlife,
shouldn't I already begin to live that afterlife,
or rather, Eternity,
Each month for this series
I select bits of idle chatter such as this
and turn out things called poems,
so that one young poet, perhaps finding it rather odd,
observed, "Then it seems there is absolutely nothing
in the whole world that is not a poem?"
Right! There is nothing
in the world, to be sure,
that is not a poem.
From humanity on down,
in every thing and every act,
all that is true and good and beautiful
is all poem.
More than that, in every person
and in every thing and in every act
the good, the beautiful, the true dwells.
And it is written that where sin increases
God's grace increases all the more.
and then like a child
savoring and enjoying it,
is to be a poet.
Note: "Where sin increases... ": Romans 5:20.
Usually when we talk with someone,
no matter how much a speaker dresses up his words,
if they are not stamped with sincerity
those words will never touch the other person's heart;
much more, no matter how gorgeous the symbols of a poem,
if reality is not there, how will it ever move people?
People commonly claim that words and thoughts are distinct,
but really thoughts and feelings are experienced in words
so that it has been said 'Being dwells in language'
And just as another person may savour the beauty of a rose
blooming in a neighbour's garden more than the actual owner,
or just as the trampling of a roadside weed
may move someone else to tears of pity,
a poem is something born, brought into being and written
out of a 'universal sensitivity' and compassion,
so never try to find or get or write a poem
while haltered by ownership or self-interest!
Ah! The wonder of the Word!
Note: 'Being dwells in language' is from Heidegger's Poetry, Language,
'Universal sensitivity' is Paul Valery's definition of poetry.
As this country rocked like a boat in Galilee's storms,
I spent the whole year not losing my belief in God alone,
just doing as I could what had to be done.
Laid up sick, I suffered for more than a month,
there were many hard things in the family and the world,
but having endured it all meekly, it proved more valuable
than any good fortune could have been.
These days, as I dream bright dreams of the world beyond,
entrusting all things to His divine Will,
even if storms are forecast for the coming New Year
there is nothing I fear.