Five Poems by Ryûsei Hasegawa

BOMB 16 Summer 1986
016 Summer 1986
​Kenro Izu 02

Kenro Izu, Sekibutsu and Pine-roots #2, Japan, 1983.

A Tale of the Squid Falling Night

          I.
In one section of the sea, only there,
the waves are torn, glowing.
Where winter moonlight doesn’t reach,
squid drift.
They are vampire squid that glow, chilly.
Where they swarm
the waves undulate with innumerable fins,
the fins undulate with innumerable lights.
When one goes on the water surface,
one turns on a lamp at the dark sea bottom
and, straight as an asteroid, floats up to the surface.

A late-night squadron of long-range bombers
which pierced toward Vladivostok
from the cape on the island
turned their noses, at an acute angle,
far above the swarming, drifting vampire squid, and soon
burst town after half-asleep town, a series of dots.
For a while, a sweep
of night showers assaulted the zone,
beating down the dust of flying fire.
In one section of the sea, only there,
the waves are torn, glowing.
Where the legs of the rain don’t reach
ghost fires drift.
The chilly illuminations
shine on countless fins.

      II.
Through the dark,
someone comes
along the beach, running.
Who is it? He’s coming.
The swish-swish of the sand kicked aside
comes closer, closer.
On a boulder, a giant cuttlefish that has crawled up
doesn’t try to move its body.
Innumerable small dolphins
appear and disappear among the waves,
whistling phewwpheww.
The giant cuttlefish lies under its heavy coat,
about to breathe
its last breath.
Its suckers are all opened wide
toward the night’s brine wind.
It has vomited raw-smelling water out of its coal-black jaw.
Through the dark, swishing the sand aside,
comes, no doubt, a man,
running.
Already he’s very near,
very close.

      III.
Under the faint lamp
there were a man and a woman, until a while ago.
Cruelly scattered on the floor were the oyster shells
the man cracked with a knife,
the blood of his fingers clinging to them.

How long afterward was it:
the lamp had run out of oil, it was
totally dark there.
On the floor
the entrails the woman tore and grabbed out of the bellies of the squid
began to emit phosphorescence, and burn.
From the pile of entrails
a funnel tube squeezes out,
its tip burning.

 

Pavlov’s Cranes

Beating sturdy feathers,
exerting the power of flight,
in unison severing, repelling
the fog in space,
their oars, wings, a single motion,
thousands of shorebirds’ vibrations
begin to resound in the depths of my ear.
Japanese cranes perhaps, demoiselle cranes or storks,
hard to distinguish,
Pavlov’s odd wing-beats,
in the sky of the quiet cerebrum, of the night,
like the splashes of water by the pectoral fins
of flashing fish in flight,
across my skin, consecutively,
echo, come closer.

From the marshes of despair
they’ve flown up and away,
and betting on the night
or heading toward daybreak,
Pavlov’s strange cranes,
one hundred or so in each group,
have begun their energetic move.
Each, green beak tilted upward,
weight resting
on the tip of the tail of the crane before it,
balancing power,
gliding on the air current,
strung together in a line,
they fly.

The one heading the group
is a lump of resistance and exhaustion.
But one after another,
they replace the leading one,
the leading ones, one after another,
in good order, fall back to the end of the flock;
constructing a balance,
drawing a small half-circle
in a line of space,
they fly splendidly.

Have you not seen it:
it is always touched, and induced
at the surface of the reflex-bow.
Night’s cerebrum. It’s on the sea of the occipital cerebral cortex.
Betting on nihilism perhaps
or heading toward daybreak,
thousands of Pavlov’s cranes,
one hundred or so in each group,
migrate as if challenging.
All the hundred birds, beaks tilted upward,
weight resting on the tips of the tails before them,
strung in a line, in silence,
never cease.

​Kenro Izu 03

Kenro Izu, Still life #15, 1984.

Crested Sheldrake

Even if you explored
the whole world
there’d only be three specimens of it—
I was thinking of the crested sheldrake.
Do you know that two
of these rare, free birds
were discovered in the forests of North Korea?
Their genealogy had discontinued
since the pictorials that were in the depths of Edo Castle
about the time the Tokugawa were destroyed,
but their inner light was unmistakably continued.
Even in a migrant bird
I see a splendid birth of rebellion
far from its day of death.
The gregarious birds called mandarin ducks
that continue to flourish in the forest of the Palace
at the center of Tokyo, Japan—
are they to become extinct?

 

Friend

      I.
Birds that don’t call
are perched on every branch,
their single-layer eyelids
wide open.
Beyond the great sea of leafage that wordlessly falls along
    with the weak,
the warmth of ash.
Send my friend ahead who doesn’t know how to vocalize his thoughts,
send my friend ahead who doesn’t awaken on the morning he gets
    torn apart,
a friend’s ethics is such as this.
Shove the superior one
off the cliff.

      II.
That’s OK he says,
that’s the only way he says;
when I saw a friend on a street corner
he talked only of making a living.
Making a living is the saddest thing.
Japan’s agriculture has taught nothing but.
Getting out of the artificially illuminated
summer library,
my half-transparent, vein-embossed palms
within a second turn a motley mud color.
Still I hide the thought
of crawling, of saying that’s the only way,
and discover the eternal enemy in a friend who works hard through
    decorative days.

Friend
who turns back,
walks back, the abyss of death is in the direction in which you’re
    walking back.
In the pool of fading sun
I kill my friend.

 

The Yamaguchi Line: Niho

The slit into an avalanching cliff
continues
and under the mists that spurt up from the forests,
all around, waterfalls of rocks lie
shattered into smithereens.
As I move ahead in the vale where daybreak rises, burning,
the fragrance of tree bark fiercely fills the air,
and with the cold more intense, my limbs seem to freeze.
Giving up on a young silly death,
throwing all away,
to complete an escape I drop in at this village of feudality:
in Niho on the Yamaguchi Line, Kappaku Village.
It’s the depth of these spurting mists.
There was a tenacious fellow called Yoshimura Isota,
who continued to write reems of single-minded novels.
The cedar on Sunako Pass that Isota loved has aged away,
and in the mists that coninue to blow, I can’t see Kuhai Pass, either.
It was night, the first time Isota returned to the village after he
    abandoned it.
Alone, he stepped in the doorway, then into the main wing.
His woman remained standing in the lashing blizzard.
To his father, pleased and adding firewood, he broke the news,
rubbing his hands, that he’d brought back the woman he’d gone to
    Tokyo with.
Taken aback, his father said,—Well, if that’s the woman, don’t feel shy
    about it, why don’t you let her in, quick. She must have been very
    cold,—and pleasantly invited her in.
Then, to a Shinto wedding
he pursued and explored his self, his way of life,
that’s what I remember.
Close to the center of the vale,
there are faint suggestions of the smell of moist straw,
and on the uphill path the corpuscles of mist
fall and pile up,
two or three fires vaguely visible ahead of me.
There is a house. The incline of the old roof,
its smoked subdued light is embossed in slow sweat.
The house, remaining as it was during the hunting age, continues
as a net from stream to stream.
Veering off the path, dividing the wavering grass,
a smaller path continues further up.
In dots, melted bird droppings are scattered,
as one group of graves, exposed to the rain and the wind, is buried at
    the edge of the cliff.
The summer when tiger lilies were so beautiful as to be cursed.
With the cremator Kanbê I settled on 35 yen and 60 sen
and roasted the flesh and the bones of a liberal who succumbed to
    caseative tuberculosis.
The smoke from the lively flames of the funeral flowed to the stream,
innumerable crows made noise in the eerily narrow heaven,
and wet in the drizzle the small head alone remained, black.
The brain had spurted out in a pulpy mess, was scarlet, smelled raw,
and when I shoved it with my stick, it rolled sideways.

This morning, the morning of winter solstice in the year of Japan’s
    destruction.
I am trying to go along the path by a stream where mists blow.
Having already passed Kappaku Village,
I am thinking of going over the Chûgoku Mountains,
through Shimane, out to the Japan Sea.
The left side of my body begins to feel heavy.
The right side of my body, too, begins to feel heavy.
Then, my spinal bone tears out of my skin
and begins to turn cold, pointed.
The mountain daybreak dazzles, dazzles,
before my eyes a blade-like ground light is shattered.
A certain sound wave
is knock-knocking up my left lung.
A certain sound wave
is knock-knocking up my right lung.
My limbs are leaden, wet,
my eyes already completely frozen.

Translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato.


Ryûsei Hasegawa was born in 1928 in Senba, Osaka. He is often associated with the Retto (Archipelago) Group of Social Realist poets. His work has appeared in English translation in the following anthologies: Japanese Poetry Today, Schocken Books, New York, 1972; Post-War Japanese Poetry, Penguin Books, 1972; The Poetry of Post-War Japan, University of Iowa 1975.

Ryûsei Hasegawa appeared in a Festival of Japanese Poetry, bi-lingual reading, sponsored by the Committee for International Poetry in November 1985 at Cooper Union. BOMB would like to thank the Committee for their aid in assembling this material for the Contemporary Japanese Poetry section of this issue.

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Originally published in

BOMB 16, Summer 1986

Linda Hunt by Vincent Caristi & Craig Gholson, Alexander Liberman, art by Jeff Koons, John Baldessari, Barbara Bloom, and more. Cover art by James Nare.

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016 Summer 1986