Translated by Coleman Barks
Who Says Words With My Mouth?
All day I think about it, then at night I say it.
Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing?
I have no idea.
My soul is from elsewhere, I’m sure of that,
And I intend to end up there.
This drunkenness began in some other tavern.
When I get back around to that place,
I’ll be completely sober. Meanwhile,
I’m like a bird from another continent, sitting in this aviary.
The day is coming when I fly off,
But who is it now in my ear who hears my voice?
Who says words with my mouth?
Who looks out with my eyes? What is the soul?
I cannot stop asking.
If I could taste one sip of an answer,
I could break out this prison for drunks.
I didn’t come here of my own accord, and I can’t leave that way.
Whoever brought me here will have to take me home.
This poetry. I never know what I’m going to say.
I don’t plan it.
When I’m outside the saying of it,
I get very quiet and rarely speak at all.
How does a part of the world leave the world?
How can wetness leave water?
Don’t try to put out a fire
By throwing on more fire!
Don’t wash a wound with blood!
No matter how fast you run,
your shadow more than keeps up.
Sometimes, it’s in front!
Only full, overhead sun
diminishes your shadow.
But that shadow has been serving you!
What hurts you, blesses you.
Darkness is your candle.
Your boundaries are your quest.
I can explain this, but it would break
the glass cover on your heart,
And there’s no fixing that.
You must have shadow and light source both.
Listen, and lay your head under the tree of awe.
When from that tree, feathers and wings sprout
on you, be quieter than a dove.
Don’t open your mouth for even a coooooooo.
When a frog slips into the water, the snake
cannot get it. Then the frog climbs back out
and croaks, and the snake moves toward him again.
Even if the frog learned to hiss, still the snake
would hear through the hiss the information
he needed, the frog voice underneath.
But if the frog could be completely silent,
Then the snake would go back to sleeping,
and the frog would reach the barley.
The soul lives there in the silent breath.
And that grain of barley is such that,
When you put it in the ground,
Are these enough words,
or shall I squeeze more juice from this?
Who am I, my friend?
* * *
When you are with everyone but me,
you’re with no one.
When you are with no one but me,
you’re with everyone.
Instead of being so bound up with everyone,
When you become that many, you’re nothing.
* * *
I am so small I can barely be seen.
How can this great love be inside me?
Look at your eyes. They are small,
but they see enormous things.
A Thirsty Fish
I don’t get tired of you. Don’t grow weary
of being compassionate toward me!
All this thirst equipment
must surely be tired of me,
the waterjar, the water carrier.
I have a thirsty fish in me
that can never find enough
of what it’s thirsty for!
Show me the way to the ocean!
Break these half-measures,
these small containers.
All this fantasy
Let my house be drowned in the wave
that rose last night out of the courtyard
hidden in the center of my chest.
Joseph fell like the moon into my well.
The harvest I expected was washed away.
But no matter.
A fire has risen above my tombstone hat.
I don’t want learning, or dignity,
I want this music and this dawn
And the warmth of your cheek against mine.
The grief-armies assemble,
But I’m not going with them.
This is how it always is
When I finish a poem.
A great silence overcomes me,
And I wonder why I ever thought
to use language.
Those Who Don't Feel This Love
Those who don't feel this love
pulling them like a river
Those who don't drink dawn
like a cup of spring water
or take sunset like supper
Those who don't want to change
Let them sleep.
is beyond the study of theology
that old and trickery and hypocrisy
If you want to improve your mind that way
I've given up on my brain
I've torn the cloth to shreds
and thrown it away.
If you're not completely naked
wrap your beautiful robe of words