Not Far from the River
poems from the Gāthā Saptaśati
translated by David Ray


If you weep already
at the sight of the moon-white rice
you'll go crazy for sure
when the yellow hemp is ripe.

She showed me how to do
everything she wanted
but in the morning
dressed behind the bamboo screen.

Now that I see these dancers
I recall how much I enjoyed
that shampoo
you gave me with your feet.

Fearing discovery by moonlight
these two sew at the leaves of the banyan,
try to stop up the chinks
that leak light.

Others leaving the boat
found the plank steady,
stepped off with no problem.
But she stumbled against him.

Their son's first teeth marks
on an apple, and she runs all the way
to the field where he's plowing.
She yells, but he hardly looks up.

Though the entire village burned down
we had the pleasure of seeing each other
still alive, our faces all flushed,
passing that scorched jug around.

The boys of our village
would know her house anywhere
from the full melons
growing on vines.

A good man kills pride
like a tiger.
And needs no wealth, either.
He kills that tiger as well.

Lakshmi, a goddess, was born from the sea.
Gods saw her glistening with foam.
And the travelers all halt, stare unblinking
at the plowman's daughter, wet from the river.

The clouds are grunting with effort
hoping to pull the earth up
on those millions of strings
strong as the best hammered silver.

It's a picture, but not such a pretty one.
The green parrots fly out of a tree.
They look just like the flung vomit
disgorged by a craggy-faced drunk.