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Poetry Offerings From Christopher Mulrooney | Poem





drawing of me by Heather Lowe


(Ssu Fan)

a play of the Ming dynasty

Se K’ung:  once there was a monk Mu Lien
who set off for Hell to rescue his own mother
 Tell me how far is Ling Mountain
 More than a hundred and eight thousand miles
my hope is in the Buddha

awful to be a nun with hair cut short
no light but one single altar lamp at night
time goes by fast and old age comes
destroying my loveliness in its spring
a lowly nun of the Chao family
I have taken the name Se K’ung
serving in the Holy Peach Convent a long time
I burn incense all day and call on the Buddha
at night I sleep alone 
cold and lonely

 a lowly nun of sixteen
 in my spring
 the abbess has shaved my head
 I burn incense all day
 and change the holy water
 while young men fool around
 at the gate of the temple
 I looked at one and he looked at me
 what an awful moment
 how to be together
 then die at the door of the King of Hell
 let him do as he likes
 pestle me cut me
 beat me boil me in oil
 let him do as he likes
 only the living really suffer
 dead men wear no chains
 let him do as he likes
 if my eyebrows get burned
 I’ll look straight ahead
 if my eyebrows get burned
 I’ll look straight ahead

but it wasn’t strangers who put me here

 my father loved to read the Sutras
 my mother invoked the Buddha’s name
 sunup and sundown they did the rites
 burned incense at the temple and prayed
 I was a sickly baby
 so they put me up to this
 to be a nun
 I pray for the dead
 the Buddha’s name is always on my lips
 all I hear is bells and prayers
 my hands are weary of bells and chimes
 bells and chimes
 drumming and sounding the conch
 I plead at the Court of Hell in vain

 I’ve read the Sutra of Transcendental Wisdom
 the Peacock Sutra’s beyond me
 the seven books of the Lotus Sutra are tricky
 my teacher has me reciting asleep or awake
 I say over again My hope is in the Buddha
 etc. etc.
 I say Great Buddha a few more times
 and curse the marriage-broker
 I say Amen a few more times
 and scream with helplessness
 a few more times I say etc.
 who could have believed I’d be so grieved

every time I think about it it gets worse
I’ll go through the gallery for a change

 go through the gallery to cheer up
 go through the gallery to cheer up

look at all these statues of the sages

 nothing but sages on either side
 how idiotic
 here’s one frozen hugging his knees
 and thinking of me I’ll bet
 this one’s holding his painted cheeks in his hands
 and longing for me I’ll bet
 this one’s leering with slitted eyes
 only the sage with the calico sack’s laughing at me
 laughing at me because time’s wasting
 wasting and who will want to
 who will want to marry me
 when I’m old
 the sage who kills the dragon hates me
 the sage who tames the tiger loathes me
 the saint with long eyebrows is worried about me
 and wonders what will become of me in the end

 altar lamps won’t do for bridebeds
 a convent galley won’t do for meeting a son-in-law
 a temple with bells and drums won’t do for awaiting a husband
 straw mats aren’t a bed of roses
 I’m a beautiful woman
 not a tough guy
 why must I wear a yellow sash
 why must I wear rags
 I see married people together
 happy and free in silk and brocade
 o God
 I can’t help it my heart is on fire
 I can’t help it my heart is on fire

today the abbess and the nuns are out
I could escape down the mountainside
there might be a chance
it’s the only way

 I’ll tear off this habit
 bury the Sutras
 chuck the prayer block
 lose the cymbals
 I’ll never be an exorcist
 or the Bodhisattva of the South Seas
 in the middle of the night I sleep alone
 when I get up I sit alone
 who is more lonely and worse off than me
 why should my head be shaved
 I hate I hate those lying monks
 is there a Tree Buddha in the World’s Garden
 is there a Buddha of the Burning Bush
 is there a Buddha of Riverbanks and Lakeshores
 are there eighty-four thousand Great Buddhas
 now let me leave the tower and temple
 let me go down the mountain and find a lover
 no matter if he hits me chides me mocks me insults me
 I’ve made up my mind not to be a Buddha
 I won’t pray Great Buddha and Transcendental Wisdom

how lucky to have escaped down the mountainside

 I only want to have a baby
 and die of happiness

(adapted by Christopher Mulrooney from the translation by A.C. Scott)

Bits and Bams


to Moongate

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