Twenty-nine Figures IV

  his nostrils!
Gouge out
  his eyeballs!

A good shot—
  wide of the mark!

Look ahead
Turn back

A good swimmer
  gets drowned;
A good rider

To hang a medicine bag
  at the back of the hearse.

Curse at one another:
  I’ll bring a spare mouth!
Sputter and splutter:
  I’ll bring extra spit!

  the vigorous horse
    of your mind!

Pecking the eggshell
  at once from inside and out.

Facing each other,
  a thousand miles apart.

After all,
  the innate skin
    is best:
No lipstick,
  no powder,
    and quite elegant.

The iron ox
  lays stone eggs.

Impossible to add
  a phrase to it;
Impossible to take one

No one on earth
  knows its price.

Dash through the gates
  of yes and no
Not staying
  in the world of bondage.

Above your head,
  utterly filled;
Under your feet,
  thoroughly stuffed.

Enter a tiger’s cave
  and stroke its whiskers!

Extract the stakes
  from the eyes.

Elbows can’t be
  turned outward.

Go a thousand miles
  not moving
    a foot!

Your nose,
  your parents’ present,
Now lies in
  another man’s hand.

    at everyone.

The square wood goes
  through a round hole.

Most difficult to play
  the no-hole flute.

The skin of the face,
  three inches thick.

Sawdust soup,
  iron-nail rice:
No gulping,
  no vomiting.

At midnight
  the wooden man talks:
No one

A man with eyes
  has seen nothing;
A man with ears
  has heard nothing.

Scratch first,
  itch later.

The two mirrors
  reflect each other.

Translated by Sōiku Shigematsu

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Diane di Prima: Five Poems from Loba

“she is the wind…”

she is the wind you never leave behind
black cat you killed in empty lot, she is
smell of the summer weeds, the one who lurks
in open childhood closets, she coughs
in the next room, hoots, nests in your hair
she is incubus
                        face at the window
                                                        she is
harpy on your fire-escape, marble figurine
carved in the mantlepiece.
                                            She is cornucopia
that wails in the night, deathgrip
you cannot cut away, black limpid eyes
of mad girls singing carols behind mesh, she is
the hiss in your goodbyes.
Black grain in green jade, sound
from the silent koto, she is
tapestry burned
                          in your brain, the fiery cloak
of feathers carries you
                                     off hills
when you run flaming
                                                to the black sea

Some Lies About The Loba

that she is eternal, that she sings
that she is star-born, that she gathers crystal
that she can be confused with Isis
that she is the goal
that she knows her name, that she swims
in the purple sky, that her fingers are pale & strong

that she is black, that she is white
that you always know who she is
when she appears
that she strides on battlements, that she sifts
like stones in the sea
that you can hear her approach, that her jewelled feet
tread any particular measure

that there is anything about her
which cannot be said
that she relishes tombstones, falls
down marble stairs
that she is ground only, that she is not ground
that you can remember the first time you met
that she is always with you
that she can be seen without grace

that there is anything to say of her
which is not truth


for there is another Lilith, not made for earth
of whom it is said / that when she is seen by men
it is as vapour / a plague / a cacophony
of unique bells / straining & stranger, they pursue
her unsubstantial cors thru this world
& the next. She is, in fact, the archetypal
foxfire of the stars
will o’the wisp of empty space
cosmic marshlight that lures us away
from the heavenly spheres, our home
to wander, forever, between quasars
at odds w/ the Sound of the Harmonious Crystals

temple flower of the abyss

                 on which is wound
                 that hope
                 which exceeds proportion.


White Fox that Leaps over Tombstomes


Shall we say that the streets were littered
                     w/ half-eaten food
dry leaves, debris of plastic & paper

Shall we remember the half-mad whores
                     who walked on them
Eyes black as Egypt: al-Khem
          the women
of that night?

                                            Shall we
recall the quarter moons of that era
their desperation
                the hopelessness of the wind
that flew out of Dead Center to its
               target in our hearts

What shall we keep of the hard shells
                      of our hands
the cloven claws held out to beg
                    held close
to keep what ran like sand?

Shall we able to name the skeletons
ostrich & pachyderm

Who will remember the bleakness of this time?
Who will recall it, later?

“I am a shadow…”

I am a shadow crossing ice
I am rusting knife in the water
I am pear tree bitten by frost
I uphold the mountain with my hand
My feet are cut by glass
I walk in the windy forest after dark
I am wrapped in a gold cloud
I whistle thru my teeth
I lose my hat

My eyes are fed to eagles & my jaw
is locked with silver wire
I have burned often and my bones are soup
I am stone giant statue on a cliff

I am mad as a blizzard
I stare out of broken cupboards

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Le Thanh-tong: Night Rain on the Hsiao Hsiang River

Night Rain on the Hsiao Hsiang River

Dripping, dripping in the Hsiang forest
All through the windy night
The rain falls heavy and light,
Shaking the branches, violent sometimes,
Knocking on my ears: I cannot sleep.
The spirit of poetry rises in me.
Awake in the morning, I go to see the new shoots,
Thousands risen in a single night. Strange, strange

Translated by Nguyen Ngoc Bich

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Tan Da: Drunk



A wild party, laughter in the night:
Are these women or flowers bathed in light?
In mirth you even forget old age.
Drunk, you no longer need a river.


    What night is this?
The crescent slinks behind the western hills.
There, there—three, four, five people—
are you real or dreams?
    The world is only as the eye sees it:
    A grudge is a hangover from a past life.
It’s written in Heaven’s logbook: Be tipsy,
love beauty, flow with the music;
choose your form: Be high, stoned, passionate,
(In the drunk realm, who can say what is ultimate?)
The body always wears a disguise,
but here you see a man’s true nature.
Forgetting at last even moon and flowers,
we taste in the wine

Translated by Nguyen Ngoc Bich

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Ho Xuan Huong: Two Poems

The Temple of Fragrance

Who could have fashioned this marvel?
The mountain cracks into a wide, hollow cave.
Pious Buddhists struggle to set foot inside,
others gaze at it tirelessly.
Drippings form a sweet streamlet,
as sailors on incoming junks bend their heads.
City folk also flock to these springs and woods.
Clever, indeed, the Old Man in Heaven!

The Jackfruit

I am like a jackfruit on the tree.
To taste you must plug me quick, while fresh:
the skin rough, the pulp thick, yes,
but oh, I warn you against touching—
the rich juice will gush and stain your hands.

Translated by Nguyen Ngoc Bich

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Laureate Quynh: The Substituted Poem

The Substituted Poem

So hear ye now the professor’s letter home:
I hope my wife can keep down her ruttish frustration.
Up north, I’ve had to put up with this sad dangler,
down south, she’d better squelch her yawning clam.
I hope it’s tight and tortuous still, like a gopher hole,
and not gaping already, like one of those catfish
If she has to, she had better fight to save it,
for I will be home in a few days.

Translated by Nguyen Ngoc Bich

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Anonymous: Four Vietnamese Poems

The Temple Novice

Here am I, a temple novice, very respectful, very
And I will set fire to all the temples and be free!
I will treat myself, gorge myself on dogs meat;
I will stick out my shaft to ford every stream that
   flows by,
and proclaim to the North and to the East:
Unmarried women, your Messiah has come!

Poor Matchmaking

I’m climbing a ladder with a stick to catch you,
old Man in the Moon, and give you ten whacks.
After the beating I’ll lash you to a tree
and give you the third degree:
Is this what you call a red thread?
Here’s for your threads linking East and North!
Here’s more for the ones binding husbands and wives!
Do I deserve an old hag, you matchmaking moron?
I’m climbing a ladder with a torch to burn down your
old bungler, old Man in the Moon.


When will it ever be March?
Then frogs will bite snakes and drag them to the
Tigers will lie down for swine to lick their fur,
Ten persimmons will swallow an octogenarian,
A handful of steamed rice will devour a ten-year-old
A chicken and wine jar will gulp down a drunkard,
Eels will lie still, swallowing the bamboo traps,
A band of grasshoppers will chase after the fish,
Rice seedlings will jump up and eat the cows,
Grasses will crouch and ambush the buffaloes,
Chicks will chase kites,
Sparrows will track down pelicans
And break their feathered necks.


Moonlight splashed over the earth;
my prick poised, I went wandering.
Met with a flock of mallards;
stretched my bow, sent my shaft to its mark.
Met with a rosy-aproned girl
carrying rice to a temple;
reached out, grabbed her bobbing breasts.
“Easy, young man! Go easy!
You’re spilling my rice!”
That was the thirtieth of the month.
Next day, the first,
she brought her rice offering to Buddha,
but Shakyamuni turned away.
His lenient smile seemed to say,
“Who could refrain from touching
one of the Three Treasures?”

Translated by Nguyen Ngoc Bich

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