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More poems and contributor notes in Chinese feature

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Contributors

Ha Jin

Ha Jin






Spring


In the late afternoon drifts a chorus of birds
that sways a boat abrim with hopes,
forgotten but still floating in the bay.
If your heart is full of longing for
a distant trip, it's time to go.
You must set out alone —
expect no company but stars.

In the early twilight billow the golden clouds
suggesting a harvest, remote yet plausible.
Perhaps your soul is suddenly seized
by a melody, which brings back
a promise never fulfilled,
or a love that blossoms only in thought,
or a house, partly built,
abandoned to the elements....

If you want to sing,
sing clearly.
Let grief embolden your song.



Pomegranates


Another rain will burst them —
they will grin, full of teeth,
through the tiny leaves

that used to hide them away.
I'll take a photo of my pomegranates
for you, the only one

I care to show. Like others
you craved the fruit
so much you overlooked

the crimson blossoms wounded
by worms and winds.
You could not imagine

some of them would swell
into such heavy pride.
I can tell you, they are sour.



Heaven


Every religion promises a unique heaven
where there's no sickness, old age, pain, or death.
In Pure Land Buddhism, heaven is said
to lie somewhere in the west
and you can get there if you do good,
recite Amida's name every day, and never kill.
You'll be reborn into that vaulted domain
not from the spasms of a womb
but from a lotus flower — such a birth saves you from
falling back into a lesser incarnation on earth.
Once you settle in the Pure Land
you'll suffer no extremes of cold and heat;
you'll be provided with beautiful clothing
and gourmet food, always ready—made.
There will be no such things as greed,
anger, ignorance, strife, or laziness.
The place is resplendent with precious stones,
towers built of agate, palaces of diamonds.
Huge trees, made of various gems, bear blossoms
and fruits that are always fresh.
Giant lotus flowers diffuse fragrance everywhere.
There are also pools inlaid with seven jewels,
holding the purest water that can adjust itself
to the depth and temperature the bathers need.
Under your feet spreads the ground paved with jade.
Day and night flowers fall from the sky shaded
by nets of gold, silver, and pearls.
In the air waft celestial music and aromas.
Not to mention living with Buddha and Bodhisattvas

Born of flesh and consumed by care,
how can I not marvel at those wonderful things?
How can I not think of mending my ways
to earn entrance to that splendid place?

Yet tired of travel and tangled in the web of dust,
I will still pray to the almighty power:
let me be a tree on earth when I die,
a tree that blossoms into fruit every summer.