Wooden Diamond Rocket

translated by Jeon Daye , Yi Ungyung & Dan Disney
Image courtesy of the International Dunhuang Project
Image courtesy of the International Dunhuang Project

as if a drunken body carried by handcart 
placed in a comfortable room, the coffin
is now being lowered 

sutra engraved on the lid
though there’s no Buddhist here, the heart
once afraid of tears
now looks on with blurry eyes
two hundred and sixty words, blurred into nothing
less than one

no irritation with ill-fitting garments
today, no struggle
though tied up for the first time, the cold body heavier
than a drunken one
wearing its wooden clothes, wooden capsule,
and now truly still

incantation pressing down
an irreversible weight, two hundred and sixty radiant words
no creation no extinction 
no avidyā nor the end of avidyā
but here, a lump of agony sharp as a lashing 
that once cried out in pain 

now about to go, a life
not strong nor weak, has never been a person nor
nonperson, now about to board a single-seater airboat
a mere lump of dark we finally cannot know 

the spell of diamond
sutra, seal the wooden diamond rocket with soil
a house for the one no longer
in pain, breaking out toward that place with no body, breath, and sattva
across the universe
to the constellation prajñā, from where
there is no return

Translation from the Korean
By Jeon Daye, Yi Ungyung, and Dan Disney

Translators’ note: The Diamond Sutra is one of the most frequently read Buddhist sutras. It is often read at funerals to wish the deceased person the wisdom of nonattachment, at which point they may leave the circle of reincarnation and enter Nirvana.

Lee Young-Kwang is a professor of creative writing and media studies at Korea University. He has published four collections of poetry; in 2011 All the Evening Wishes won the prestigious Mi-Dang literature award. Other awards include the Roe-Jak Prize (2008) and Ji-Hoon Prize for Literature (2011).

Jeon Daye (MA) lives in Seoul and is a freelance translator.

Yi Ungyung is a PhD candidate at Sogang University, Seoul.

Dan Disney teaches twentieth-century poetry at Sogang University, Seoul.