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7 Poems

by Toshiko Hirata, translated from the Japanese by Jeffrey Angles






Greetings Are Important

When you’re going to cross a bridge
Use the greeting “Please let me cross”
If you don’t, the bridge will break in two
As you cross half way

When you’re going to climb into a car
Use the greeting “Please let me in”
If you don’t, the tires will deflate
As you sit in the seat

When you’re about to swim in a pool
Use the greeting “Please let me swim here”
If you don’t, the pool will turn to sand
As you dip in your feet

When you’re about to wipe your face
Use the greeting “Please let me wipe with you”
If you don’t, the towel will feel pain
As you apply it to your face

When you’re about to lie in bed
Use the greeting “Please let me sleep here”
If you don’t, the bed will become a casket
As you fall fast asleep











My Fun Family


The crows of August
Have been staring at us
From early morning onward so
Father cannot go work at the government bureau
Mother can’t go to negotiate with the insurance
Daughter can’t go to work at the design office
Son cannot go teach social studies

The crows of August
Have been staring at us
Even in the afternoon so
Father cannot go his dance lessons
Mother cannot meet her tennis coach
Daughter cannot do her scuba diving
Son swings an invisible bat in the living room

The crows of August
Have been starting at us
Even after night has fallen
Father cannot burn down the warehouse
Mother cannot swindle her sweetheart
Daughter cannot hijack a taxi
Son cannot go to kidnap the children









Complaints from the Inhabitant

Who is climbing the apartment wall?
Walls are not there for climbing
They are for painting graffiti

Who is speaking on the apartment roof?
Roofs are not there for speaking
They are for dancing down the rain

Who is polishing the apartment windows?
Windows are not there for polishing
They are for gleefully breaking

Who is crying under the floorboards?
The space beneath is not there for crying
It is for thieves to hide and drink their booze

Who is falling down the stairs?
The stairs are not there for falling
They are for hanging up lines of squid to dry

Who is knocking at the door?
The door is not there for knocking
It is there, rising so precipitously
To separate me from you








Weird

Doesn’t that family seem a little weird?
The TV antenna lies there where it has fallen
The nameplate by their front door is cheap wood
They only do their laundry once a month
They’ve got a big Buddha in their yard
(I saw this peeking through the hedge)

Doesn’t that family seem a little weird? 
The husband leads cows home at night
The wife goes out in the morning to dance
The children go to school buck naked
They’re growing mushrooms in the tatami
(I saw this peeking through the bathroom window)

Doesn’t that family seem a little weird?
The husband is manufacturing missiles
The wife is polishing the knives
The children are reading books about adult diseases
They’re chilling their socks in the refrigerator
They eat their meals underneath the table
(I noticed this peeking from the kitchen)

Doesn’t that family seem a little weird?
It’s been a whole year since they’ve moved here
They don’t bring year-end gifts
They don’t come to talk things over
They travel as a family over New Year’s
They’re cooking up some kind of plan
(I heard this crawling beneath their floorboards)








P-E-O-P-L-E

Please let me hear your voice
Please listen to my voice

Please draw a window you like
Please let me paint the color I like

Please lend me your lake
Feel free to climb my mountain

Please show me your collar bone
Let’s exchange one of yours for mine

Please show me your line of fortune
I’ll give you part of my life line

Please let me touch your narrative
Please embrace my history

Please show me your wounds
Please take a look at my scars

Please show me what you look like in tears
I also cry so I’d like you by my side

Please draw me a map
Of the town where you were born
Once day I’d like to go there with you

Please show me your shadow
Let’s line yours up with mine
No doubt the two will look much alike

Please tell me your name
Please ask me my name as well










Man Without Arms

 

A man was standing there without arms
He and I faced each other across the crosswalk
Suspended between us like a rope bridge
The man didn’t have either of his arms
He walked this way when the light turned green
I looked at my shoes as I walked
Pretending to be worried
I walked by him
Once I had reached the other side
Once I had cut the bridge down, I turned to look
I looked at the man’s old jacket
I watched as the two empty sleeves
Of his jacket fluttered in the wind

I was the one who cut off his arms
I amputated them with a saw
Like getting rid of two extra branches
So he couldn’t hold the steering wheel
So he couldn’t play the keyboard
So he couldn’t open the door and go
So he couldn’t go where she was
So he couldn’t grab her breast
So he couldn’t strangle her
I sawed with all my might
I did it well, considering it was my first time
Even he complimented me on my skill
The body of the armless man
Was as clean as a tree in winter
But

Arms grow back over and over again
When he reaches her room
The two empty sleeves of his jacket
Will have filled out like branches
Even when I split him clean in two
The arms grow back over and over again








Van Gogh’s Bedroom As I See It

There are two chairs in this room
Both are simple, unsophisticated chairs
Their gender is unclear
Their age also unclear
Both of them are simple but
The chair on the left is a little more grown up
Than the one on the right
Maybe it is the older brother
And the one on the left the younger sister

There is a table between the chairs
The table wears a worn out expression
The chairs and table are not lovers
Their relationship is that of parent and child
The table is mother to the chairs

What stands out most is the bed
Which takes up nearly half the room
The bed’s volume is greater than that
Of the table and both chairs put together
Still, the bed is not especially ashamed
About what a giant it is

The chair and table are standing
But the bed is lying down
It is not doing so well these days
“Get better, daddy”
“Get better, darling”
The wife and her two children
Watch over it with worried expressions

The husband doesn’t have much longer
The blood that has drained from him
Has stained the floor an ominous color
The wife holds a pitcher and cup
Ready to carry water to her dying husband

The large piece of cloth hanging on the wall
Is to shroud the father’s corpse when he dies
The older brother has already secretly decided
That will be his job when the time comes

Unaware of what is happening
His little sister crowds close to her father
But does not utter a word

The artist who painted this
Shot himself in a wheat field at the end of his life
The artist who painted this
Was not blessed with family while he was alive

The color of the bed in the room
So strongly resembles the color of wheat
While the walls of the room
So strongly resemble the color of the sky
Stretching over the field of wheat



 


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TOSHIKO HIRATA (1955-) is a Japanese poet and novelist. During the 1980s, she, along with Hiromi Ito, emerged as one of the foremost voices so-called "women's boom" of poetry. Her poetry is known for its directness and black humor. In the last decade, she has increasingly turned to writing novels, which often feature ordinary people in bizarre circumstances that lead them to question the traditional family system and the spots allotted to them in society.

JEFFREY ANGLES (1971-) is an associate professor at Western Michigan University, where he teaches Japanese literature and translation studies. He is the author of Writing the Love of Boys: Origins of Bishonen Culture in Modernist Japanese Literature (University of Minnesota Press, 2011), and the translator of several volumes of translations of Japanese poetry, including Killing Kanoko: Selected Poems of Hiromi Ito (Action Books, 2009) and Forest of Eyes: Selected Poems of Tada Chimako (University of California Press, 2010). He has won grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the PEN Translation Fund to support his translation projects.