Wang Ping


Thus digging all the way to New York, finally 
face to face with you, in your crowded apartment
on 12th Street, translating for you and the Misty School
poets from China I'm grabbing at the meaning of each word--lost
among big-nosed devils and their heaps 
of accumulated materials, among faces
of the hungry, crushed, wronged, murdered, drugged--
face to face with you
and your Buddha dancing in the tangka
on the bedroom wall--you talking faster and faster 
trying to explain what happened in Tibet, 
what is still happening, to the closed ears of the Misty poets
who believed things had changed for the better: no more
killing, temples being restored with government money
--till your sudden explosion roaring through foam,
finger pointing at my nose: "What the hell do you know, damn it!
What do you know?"--silence, stunned faces, tears, 
"I'm just translating, Allen" hanging your head as Bob
led you away by the hand, Misty School poets fled to the kitchen
Me standing alone in front of the Buddha, feeling 
wronged, voice thundering in my skull "What 
do you know?" but how could I know unless I went there--??
until you returned with two books,
White Shroud and Collected Poems, opened the covers,
wrote amid the lotus blossoms "Sorry to yell for Buddha"
and took my hand lifting it to your mouth--I made a vow
to journey in the direction your finger had pointed.

In Tibet, how I gazed at the highest land, 
once the bottom of the ocean,
now churned to the top, the massive landscape 
of rocks and bare mounds patched with thin grass--
herds of sheep and yaks rolling here and there
like summer clouds, winding paths smoothed
by pilgrims' hands and knees--their religion
embedded in sky, earth so far and near, their sunburnt 
faces caked with dust and cow dung, angelic from all angles,
their smile that rises from death, from the unforgiveness 
of earth, constantly breaking into a naked joy 
for small things--like laughing at Chinese soldiers
who eat vegetables like sheep or horses
--faces where pain and joy
are carved into each wrinkle with perfect harmony.

Thousands of gazelles give birth, their blood
dyeing the grassland scarlet, the sky
darkened by geese, gathering to feast on placenta, their
droppings becoming food for the newborns--in the High Land
where life constantly bleeds into death and vice versa
songs and dance are scarce--nomads occasionally stand
in a circle, raising arms or lifting legs in slow motion
"above 20,000 feet we no longer sing or dance" they say
the most important thing is to breathe, to breathe and gaze--
at the sky through dust, at souls through wind--
if souls are wind as nomads believe, then 
what lies beyond?