A Bodhisattva Undoes Hell

Because he saw the men of the world ploughing their fields, sowing the seed, trafficking, huckstering, buying and selling, and at the end winning nothing but bitterness, for this he was moved to pity

To the figures bathing at the river
Jizo appeared

The sky was full of small fishes
The bodies of the men
twisted in an afternoon
when earth and air were one

With Hell a hard fact
the double lotus
brought the son of heaven
down among us
And the bathers showed their hands
that bore the marks of nails

What Jizo said
was this

Let’s bury their lousy hammers
My people
are tired of pain
The world’s been crucified
long enough

The rain fell gently on their wounds
The women lugged
big platters of shrimp
to the bathers
when Jizo’s diamond
caught the sun

The rest of us
sat at the stone windows
overlooking the river
We saw him climb the hill
and disappear
behind the guardhouse

What he told the guards
was this

Your bosses are men
who darken counsel
with words
But the white sun
carries love
into the world

When Jizo leaned on his stick
the blue lines in his face
were shining with tears
We followed him
into the city
where lilies bled beside a lake

He said

The heart’s
a flower
Love
each other
Keep the old
among you
Write the poem
The image
unlocks Hell
Man’s joy
makes his gods

For those who heard him
hatred fell away
We spent the night
with angels
fishing in the ponds
of Hell

© Jerome Rothenberg (Poems and Poetics)

This is an earlier version of the poem that appears in the book of selected poetry “Poems For The Game Of Silence: 1960 – 1970” published by New Directions Publishing, 1971.

There also exists a reworked version (50 years later) that can be accessed here as a PDF from Argot Ebooks: The Jigoku Zoshi of Hells: A Book of Variations

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