Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Jikininki (Heian Period Scroll), Sonnet #169

The hungry ghosts of Japan eat rotting man's flesh
In penance for a life of greed and selfishness.
At night, all skeletal limbs and bloated bellies,
They see only what the rat or the maggot sees.
In sunlight, each takes on its once human disguise
And wanders its former haunts under clouds of flies.

They say the Jikininki don't want what they eat,
That demon guardians won't permit them to starve.
Some try, but their torturers dismember and beat
And shriek at them: "Now eat what our flaming swords carve!"

These sad, sympathetic souls can only be freed
By prayers of a human free of vice or greed.
Thus the ranks of the Jikininki grow; they feed
On what we leave behind, until we share their need.

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