To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Hiromi Ito: Two Poems, “Father’s Uterus, or the Map” & “Marjoram, Dill, Rosemary”

Translation from Japanese by Jeffrey Angles

Father’s Uterus, Or The Map

In that room various body parts
Are stuffed into various bottles
We saw various deformities, various strange diseases
We could have seen various dead bodies but
The men didn’t want to go there
That’s why all I saw were parts of bodies
Body parts that had changed color in the liquid
No chance
Of them coming back to life

Look, that’s my father’s arm
The men said pointing to an arm all dried up
That’s my father’s skin
The men pointed to a patch of skin ridden with disease
That’s my father’s stomach
The men pointed to a stomach with ulcers
Those are my father’s testicles
The men pointed to testicles with elephantiasis
Those are my father’s bones and spinal column
Those are my father’s joints
Those are us, the children our father gave birth to
The men pointed to fetuses with hydrocephalus
And that is you
The men pointed to a breast with cancer
And that is my father’s uterus
The men pointed to a uterus that had grown teeth
There were a row of teeth pushing the flesh aside
I wanted to say
This is a disease, a deformity
But I did not
That is my father’s uterus
When we were boys, our father often thrashed us
Those are the cruel uterine teeth that punished us
One began to sob
Another began to dance
Meanwhile the men suddenly broke the bottle
With the uterus with the teeth
Regardless of whether it was their father’s or anyone else’s
Regardless of whether it was the result of disease or deformity
The bottle broke
Tears and medicinal fluid
Teeth and glass shards
I thought
These actions are merely maudlin
But I did not say anything
“When I open the map and think about where I want to go
There is my father, standing everywhere on the map
I become desperate to find someplace he’s not
My father stands everywhere
My father stands everywhere on the map, I point and he’s there”
I am telling this story I heard somewhere of father and daughter
When one of the men gives me a map
A map marked in a foreign tongue
I know the contours of the land
I know the names of places too but
I can’t read the language
The men can read it however
So whenever I look at the map
That language
The men who read that language
Watch me with tactful eyes

Of course the man who gave me the map
And immediately started to stand watch
Regretted his actions
He writhed with regret
Be quiet (I wished)
Drop dead (I wished)
He should die the dullest death imaginable
Dashing chewed gum to the floor or
Disappearing suddenly in a burst of wind or
Starving to death or something
Still the man gives me a map in order to keep watch
No matter when, no matter where, he is standing there in the map
He appears even inside the bottles, come back to life
But the man regrets
He writhes with regret
No choice but to leave him be
Call out and
Immediately he is standing there
He is going to thrash me
The man’s blood vessels brim to overflowing
The same way they have dozens, hundreds of times
Father, older brother
Husband, lover, teacher, whatever I call him

Marjoram, Dill, Rosemary

The pleasure of another’s embrace is so strong
I want nothing more
Even though situations change, I make the meals
I use the essential spices and oils
Coriander, fennel
The people I take care of

I caught cold
The man said
The man who talks about catching cold always looks pale
He says he can’t hear because he’s caught cold
He says he can’t breathe through his nose because he’s caught cold
He says he can’t even understand the Japanese he overhears anymore
And so with all of the power in my body
I want to rain my breast milk and saliva
Upon his bad nose, his bad throat
To restore his organs to health
I want to rub and stroke him

In her sweet voice, my child too
Has a touch of cold
My youngest follows suit, her cold continues
Her habit of grasping my nipples also doesn’t disappear
When grasped, my nipples hurt
They are withered, not a drop comes out
Grow old
We grow old
Menopause should have come
And so the many daughters whom I have born
Soak up the dripping from my youngest daughter’s nose
Wipe the diarrhea pouring from my youngest daughter’s behind
Just like they were
Hundreds, thousands of mothers
Into this, they pour their accumulated desires
With her treatment, my youngest
Accepts the caresses of her older sisters
Her body becomes wrapped in song
She hears meaning in fragments
For such a long time, brown sugar, sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet
Meaning is in fragments without meaning
Sweet, sweet, sweet, coriander

My older sister told me she wanted to have her last child at
My older sister who grew up with me, five years my senior
That’s what she thought when she saw that man
That man with the axe under his arm
That man with the axe under his arm and the nose ring
She schemed to have sex with him but
When she met him, her desire to give birth had faded
My older sister’s girls are very big now
My younger sister’s dream
Is to wander her whole life
To have children in distant lands with native men
To scatter children in those lands
Or so said my younger sister who grew up with me, two years my
Taking the children she wants
Leaving the children behind she doesn’t
Wiping out the children she wants to kill
Fennel, coriander
We can still have more
We can still have more
If I gave birth again, I would live
With my older and younger sisters
If we wanted to touch each other erotically, we would do it
If we wanted to have sex, we’d go outside and do it
That’s our promise
I’d eat with my sisters
My companions
Through speech and silence
We’d embrace
And listen to the sounds of
Each other’s breath
Through the night

[NOTE. The foregoing are further selections from Hiromi Ito’s Killing Kanoko: Selected Poems, her first major collection of poems translated into English, published by Action Books in Notre Dame, Indiana. Her poem, “The Matreatment of Meaning,” was posted on Poems and Poetics on January 7, 2009, with extensive commentary and biographical note, and another poem, “Coyote”, on December 25, 2009.  The Japanese for “Father’s Uterus, Or the Map” and “Marjoram, Dill, Rosemary” were originally published in The Shamaness and Her Interpreter 『のろとさにわ』 (1991).  Ito, who divides her year between Japan and Encinitas, California, remains a prolific & internationally acclaimed poet and writer, and Jeffrey Angles continues as her principal translator into English. (J.R.)]

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