Three Poems

by Nagami Atsuko

An Ancient Temple

Climbing the stone staircase
I visit an ancient temple.

In the evening
the sound of a bell comes
across the mountains;
the screams of souls confined in the bell
come, resounding.

After a painful dream
I see through the bones of dead people.
I stand before a stone.
Innumerable mutterings flow on like bubbles
through the stone.

Beyond the cool
thickness of time
melts a town of dreams.

Descending to the bottom of the town
to follow you,
that’s me,
a migratory bird without wings.

 

A River

After an evening shower
I must have stepped over a dream
somewhere:
in a spotlighted garden
a river flowed.

At the edge of the garden
I took a boat out on the river
to the farthest end
of my endless afternoon sleep.

The fragrant smell of flowers
comes at each joint of a wind.
Allured,
I apply scissors
to your favorite flowers.
Innumerable petals
shatter and fall, one after another,
to sink into the water.

At night, I’m certain,
wonderful flower gardens will be there, on and on,
over the bottom of the river.

After the dream
you come across the river
and enter the garden.
Perhaps you were violently tossed around by the water:
your hands and feet still gleam
with fish scales.

 

The Inside of the Opposite Sex (complete)

   (When I open a water map)

When I open a water map
the shoulders of the opposite sex have scales of dead fish piled on them.
I walk a town where buildings are deep.
An impulsive tongue stands upside down, pounding a bag of foul smells.

   (A cold incident)

A cold incident rolls up a parlor door from an edge of town.
Beyond the door the smell of the soul, too, fades.
After the light peels off from the putrefaction of time
the head of the opposite sex is seated at the bottom of a thick wind.

   (Beyond the arcade)

Beyond the arcade
the starvation of midsummer accumulates in the intestines of the opposite sex.
Entwining my sight with what scorches at the bottom of my eyes, chaos,
I crossed a bridge that gleamed like a blade.

   (Perhaps because I’ve walked . . .)

Perhaps because I’ve walked through a darkness where light danced
the platform brims with grains of pointed screams under my breast.
Split the thirst of the dream making a round of the subway.
At the abyss of a roaring wind is the figure of the opposite sex plunged.

   (Gripping the root of the voice)

Gripping the root of the voice
I chase the perilous shadow down outside coquettishness.
Bathed in the glitter of a scandal
I stand in a cold direction even now.

   (The misty rain swells . . .)

The misty rain swells and an umbrella begins to sink.
Rainy season,
the face of the opposite sex that flows at the base of the window of a boutique,
in my brain drops of water that have gone mad are jumping up and down all at once.

   (The day I go down a river . . .)

The day I go down a river along old buildings
the shadow of a sobbing person is burning up on the water.
I shatter my memories with the color of a voice that falls fiercely
and go on drinking light far darker than the evening sun.

   (For the duration until . . .)

For the duration until the water bus falls down to the bottom of the town,
the line of people waiting for the bus is quiet, their fingers picking up the embers of
dreams.
The green of the landscape gleams faintly,
noiseless derangement lying undone.

 

Translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato.

A leading translator of Japanese poetry into English, Hiroaki Sato won the 1982 PEN American Center Translation Prize for From the Country of Eight Islands: An Anthology of Japanese Poetry (Anchor Books, 1981; with Burton Watson), and the 1999 Japan-United States Friendship Commission Japanese Literary Translation Prize for Breeze Through Bamboo: Kanshi of Ema Saikô (Columbia University Press, 1997).

Nagami Atsuko began writing poems at age 20 and at 25 published her first collection, Ishigaki no aru Fûkei (A Landscape with a Stone Wall). From 1982 to 1984 she published three more books of poems. In 1985, less than a year after being diagnosed with cancer, Atsuko died at age 30. Her fifth book, published posthumously in 1986, consisted mainly of poems written while she was ill. These three poems are from an anthology of Japanese women poets translated by Hiroaki Sato and edited by Robert Fagan (publisher to be determined).

Tags:
Translation
Japanese language
Japanese literature
BOMB 87
Spring 2004
The cover of BOMB 87
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